jlink
Sunday, April 22, 2018

Ari wearing tzitzit. Clara says he wears them proudly every day and says the bracha on them every morning.

Following Ari Goodman’s first stem cell therapy last year, to treat what doctors called severe low-functioning autism, The Jewish Link reported on his progress and his family’s hope that they would be able to help him continue his journey towards recovery.

Ari was first diagnosed seven years ago, after he began losing skills at the age of 18 months. His mother, Clara, and father, Daniel, a 1990 graduate of Frisch who grew up in Parsippany, explored all therapies available to Ari, but nothing was able to reach him.

The family persevered, finally learning of the Stem Cell Institute, a facility in Panama that was known for successfully administering stem cell therapy to patients with autism. Clara and Daniel were determined to help Ari receive that treatment but, with the procedure and other costs totalling nearly $20,000, they feared it was beyond their reach.

Clara, ever her son’s champion, reached out to The Jewish Link, seeking assistance in sharing her family’s story, and the response went well beyond what they imagined. The Goodmans, residents of East Windsor, were able to take Ari for his first treatment in May of 2016, and the results, noted Clara, were “miraculous.” Within weeks the family saw Ari begin “coming back to us. We started to see changes,” she said.

Feeling eternally grateful to the greater Jewish community for its help, and hopeful for the first time in years, Clara again reached out, in December of 2016, through a follow-up article in The Jewish Link. This time the Goodmans were not surprised by the outpouring of support, but just as grateful. “It is amazing how many people are right there with us. Everyone who has cared about our story has helped in some way,” Clara remarked.

Ari, now 9 years old, received his second stem cell therapy earlier this year, and Clara was thrilled to discuss his progress with The Jewish Link. “Since February, his awareness of everything is 100 percent there,” she said. “He responds. His receptive language is amazing. He’s able to answer questions. He just knows everything and has opinions.”

Clara reports that Ari is now able to spontaneously ask for things and express wants and needs, though still only using one word at a time. “He has a sense of humor now. He laughs,” she said.

He is able to read sentences, and can spell words and put them together to form sentences. In fact, at school Ari is no longer in the class for children with autism; his progress has allowed him to move to a class for students with “multiple disabilities,” where the students are more social and conversational. His teachers have told Clara that Ari adds much to the classroom, and both students and teachers enjoy having him there.

“My hope is that he’ll develop more language,” said Clara. “I hope to mainstream him and maybe have him attend a Jewish school one day. We would love for him to learn Torah every day.”

For the first time, Clara is anxiously awaiting Ari’s annual IEP (Individualized Educational Plan) meeting next month, as she has already been told by his teachers that he has met all of his goals and they want to expand on that for next year. “I used to dread those meetings,” she stated. “Now I can’t wait. I’m looking forward to every day and seeing what new things he can do.”

Ari is “loving and affectionate, full of hugs and kisses,” Clara reported. “Doctors said he’d never do that.”

She continued, “We were told he would never be able to do any of these things. He is showing more every day that he’s whole. It’s in there and once the stem cells heal him it will all come back. He is proving everybody wrong and showing that Hashem is in charge, not any doctor.”

The Goodmans are hoping that a third treatment will “show more revealed miracles,” added Clara. He’s not conversational yet; I want the social aspect to come. I know he’s not out of the woods yet. He has a long way to go,” but “every time we go we see more and more improvement.”

While trials using adult stem cells are now ongoing at Duke University in North Carolina, America still does not have any treatments available that might benefit Ari. “We are that much closer to the FDA approving treatment,” Clara said. “But even then it still might not be covered.”

In the meantime, the Goodmans believe they must continue these treatments. “The stem cell therapy is allowing him to respond to all the therapies that weren’t working before. His body is healing and is open to it now,” added Clara.

“I feel like I have him back again and it’s the most wonderful feeling in the world,” she continued. “We felt like we lost him when he was diagnosed. Ari is proof that miracles do happen.”

“Ari has been through so much and he is still such a happy kid. He inspires others. I really believe that his mission in life is to heal the world; he’s helping us all be better people,” Clara stated. “His middle name is Netanel, which means ‘gift from God.’ He really is.”

Clara hopes that her family’s journey will provide strength to others who have children with autism. “There is an answer. Don’t ever give up on your child,” she said.

To help the Goodman family provide another stem cell treatment for Ari, please visit www.gofundme.com/aristemcelljourney or, to make a tax-deductible donation, send a check payable to “Congregation Toras Emes,” with “for Ari Goodman” noted in the memo line, and send ℅ Clara Goodman to 523 Nettleton Drive, East Windsor, NJ 08520.

By Jill Kirsch