Pay­ing it for­ward – via kid­ney do­na­tion

• By MAX­INE LIPTZEN DOROT

The Jerusalem Post Magazine - - CONTENTS -

One day in 2009, Rabbi Ye­shayahu He­ber felt so ill that he went to the Hadas­sah Univer­sity Med­i­cal Cen­ter emer­gency room. There he was shocked to be told that both his kid­neys had just about stopped func­tion­ing and he had to be­gin im­me­di­ate dial­y­sis in an at­tempt to ward off the al­most im­mi­nent threat to his life. Dial­y­sis is a treat­ment that fil­ters and pu­ri­fies the blood and is very painful and time con­sum­ing, with most pa­tients sit­ting three times a week, any­where from three to five hours. It is not a cure, so find­ing a kid­ney donor is vi­tal.

Dur­ing his treat­ments, the rabbi met 19-year-old Pin­chas who, as an in­fant, had al­ready re­ceived a kid­ney that saved his life. It had served him well over the years un­til age 15, when his brother was killed by ter­ror­ists while in the army. Dur­ing the seven days of mourn­ing that fol­lowed, Pin­chas for­got to take the medicines nec­es­sary to keep his body from re­ject­ing that long-ago trans­planted kid­ney. As a re­sult, he went into kid­ney fail­ure and was put on im­me­di­ate dial­y­sis. Four years into his treat­ment, he met an­other pa­tient also on dial­y­sis – He­ber. The two be­came fast friends de­spite their dif­fer­ence in age.

In those days, there was no of­fi­cial or­ga­ni­za­tion to go to for help and it was very rare for any­one out­side of fam­ily to do­nate one of their kid­neys. Luck­ily, a friend of­fered He­ber one of his kid­neys and it was a per­fect match.

Af­ter get­ting back on his feet, the rabbi vowed to find a kid­ney for Pin­chas. He went up and down his Jerusalem neigh­bor­hood look­ing for peo­ple who were will­ing to do­nate a kid­ney, not giv­ing up when peo­ple told him he was out of his mind. His per­sis­tence paid off and the rabbi found a donor who was a match for his young friend, but trag­i­cally, Pin­chas died two weeks be­fore the sched­uled trans­plant surgery that would have saved his life. Pin­chas’ fight for life had been lost be­cause of the near im­pos­si­bil­ity of find­ing a donor. His par­ents had to sit shiva for an­other son.

Af­ter Pin­chas’ fu­neral, He­ber de­cided to leave his job as an el­e­men­tary school prin­ci­pal and teacher and ded­i­cate his life to find­ing kid­ney donors. There was al­ready a na­tion­ally spon­sored data bank for or­gan trans­plants – Adi – but these do­na­tions came only from the de­ceased. Ac­cord­ing to some in­ter­pre­ta­tions of Jewish law, a do­na­tion from a de­ceased donor is for­bid­den, but those from a liv­ing per­son are “kosher,” so Mat­nat Chaim (The Gift of Life) was born. It func­tions as a vol­un­tary not-for­profit or­ga­ni­za­tion based on al­tru­is­tic do­na­tions of kid­neys for chil­dren, teens and adults. There is no money in­volved.

In its first year, 2009, the rabbi found four donors. In the sec­ond year, he found seven. To­day they are up to nearly 600 donors – that’s 600 lives saved! Most of the donors are re­li­gious, but the re­cip­i­ents are a mix that re­flects Is­raeli so­ci­ety. The he­roes of this par­tic­u­lar story (be­sides He­ber) are two donors, both mod­ern Ortho­dox. The re­cip­i­ents are both sec­u­lar.

JUDY SINGER, 56, made aliyah from Kansas City in the early 1980s.

“Even though ev­ery­thing was go­ing well in my life, I felt like I needed some sort of life up­grade. By chance, I had come across an ar­ti­cle writ­ten by an old ac­quain­tance who, while vis­it­ing in Is­rael, had do­nated a kid­ney to a stranger. I was mes­mer­ized. I did re­search and found out about Mat­nat Chaim and met with them sev­eral times. Af­ter a year of think­ing about it, I de­cided to go for it. I passed all the med­i­cal and psy­cho­log­i­cal test­ing re­quired. My hus­band and three daugh­ters were very sup­port­ive all along the way, a ‘must’ for this type of jour­ney. I was 51. My kid­ney went to Rena, a 50-year-old cos­meti­cian from Haifa, who has two boys who are al­most the same age as my kids. She re­ceived her trans­plant just be­fore she would have had to go on dial­y­sis, thank God. We had never met be­fore, but now we’re close and have a very spe­cial re­la­tion­ship.

“I was in the hos­pi­tal for three days af­ter surgery, at home for about two and a half weeks and then back to work. I take no medicine, have no spe­cial diet and no re­stric­tions of any kind. I think I’m ac­tu­ally health­ier than be­fore be­cause I ex­er­cise more, drink more wa­ter and make sure to have an an­nual checkup. The ex­pe­ri­ence was pro­foundly mov­ing, mean­ing­ful, rel­a­tively easy and un­be­liev­ably sat­is­fy­ing.”

ECHO­ING THESE sen­ti­ments is Shalom Ashke­nazi, the CEO of the Kib­butz Lavi Ho­tel, who, three years ago, de­cided he wanted to do some­thing good for some­one less for­tu­nate.

“I was 40 years old, healthy, ac­tive and the fa­ther of seven won­der­ful chil­dren, in­clud­ing two sets of twins. I did some se­ri­ous soul search­ing and de­cided that since God had given me so much, the least I could do was give some­thing back.”

He ap­proached his wife with the idea of do­nat­ing a kid­ney. His kids were

shocked at first but then very proud and sup­port­ive. The next step was to go to Mat­nat Chaim.

Af­ter be­ing guided through the process there, Ashke­nazi was sent to Ram­bam Med­i­cal Cen­ter in Haifa for tests, and when it was found that he had met all the re­quire­ments nec­es­sary, a match was found and a date set for his surgery. The re­cip­i­ent was a 44-year-old man from Karmiel, Sa’ar Nach­mani, a build­ing project man­ager and fa­ther of three who had been on dial­y­sis for three long years. Ashke­nazi vis­ited Nach­mani while he was re­cu­per­at­ing, the first time they had met. The two men formed an im­me­di­ate kin­ship which, ac­cord­ing to both, will last for­ever.

The above surg­eries were both done in Ram­bam.

Af­ter a hos­pi­tal stay of seven days, Nach­mani was back home, re­turn­ing to work af­ter four months and feel­ing bet­ter than he had in years.

“Dial­y­sis is not a cure, but it kept me alive and I hoped and prayed that I’d get that kid­ney. But you know, there are some dis­eases that have no cure, so when you put it that way, I’m a lucky man… there’s a cure for what I have but it de­pends on the kind­ness and gen­eros­ity of strangers, and in my case, Shalom was that stranger. Thanks to him, I’m a new man! I have my life back and the sky’s the limit!”

As for Ashke­nazi, be­ing a kid­ney donor has had a tremen­dous ef­fect on his life, so much so that he reg­u­larly gives lec­tures on the sub­ject to his vis­it­ing Chris­tian and Jewish guests, in English and in He­brew, with the hope that his mes­sage will in­spire at least one other per­son to give the gift of life.

Like Singer, liv­ing with one kid­ney has not had any last­ing phys­i­cal ef­fects on Ashke­nazi. He still runs and ex­er­cises five times a week, swims and com­petes in the Jerusalem Marathon on the Mat­nat Chaim team.

“I feel ab­so­lutely fine. Re­cov­ery from the surgery was easy and the only thing I have to do is drink lots of wa­ter. I’m not on any med­i­ca­tion… my life has con­tin­ued the way it did be­fore with only one huge ex­cep­tion: the im­mense sat­is­fac­tion I have got­ten from do­nat­ing a kid­ney and know­ing that I saved an­other per­son’s life.”

Singer and Ashke­nazi don’t con­sider them­selves to be “he­roes.” As Ashke­nazi says, “The he­roes are the pa­tients who spend years un­der­go­ing dial­y­sis and the med­i­cal staff that treat them and op­er­ate. And of course, Rabbi He­ber.”

“Some peo­ple told me that I was a very brave per­son for do­nat­ing one of my kid­neys,” says Singer. “I replied that it had noth­ing to do with ‘brav­ery,’ but be­ing for­tu­nate enough to help some­one in need. Frankly, I’d do it again if I could.”

For more in­for­ma­tion about kid­ney do­na­tions: (02) 500-0755 or matanatchaim.org.

• MAX­INE LIPTZEN DOROT

(Sa’ar Nach­mani) ( W iki m e d ia C o m o n s)

SA’AR NACH­MANI was the re­cip­i­ent of a new lease on life.

(Chaim Meiers­dorf)

THE MAT­NAT Chaim run­ning team in the Jerusalem Marathon.

(Mat­nat Chaim)

GIFT OF Life: Mat­nat Chaim donors, 2016-2017.

(Sa’ar Nach­mani)

NACH­MANI (LEFT) with his donor, Shalom Ashke­nazi.

(Be­naya Yehuda)

LIFE UP­GRADE: Donor Judy Singer.

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