Joy of giv­ing a kid­ney

The Jerusalem Post Magazine - - OBSERVATIONS - BAR­BARA SOFER

‘I’m so happy, it feels like my wed­ding day,” says Esti Lerer. The pe­tite, hazel-eyed has­sidic mother of three is joy­ful be­cause she has suc­ceeded in giv­ing away one of her healthy kid­neys. “It’s hard to ex­press the ela­tion and ebul­lience of know­ing that I am so for­tu­nate to be able to give away less than 200 grams of my body and to save a life.”

At 28, Lerer is among Is­rael’s youngest al­tru­is­tic kid­ney donors, a per­son with­out a fa­mil­ial con­nec­tion to the re­cip­i­ent. Do­nat­ing a kid­ney was her child­hood dream, but she had to over­come for­mi­da­ble op­po­si­tion. To do­nate a kid­ney in Is­rael, you have to be at least 23 years old. Al­though Lerer was al­ready 27 when she reg­is­tered, she was re­jected, dis­cour­aged and her san­ity was ques­tioned.

“Along the way I was re­peat­edly told I was nuts. I should come back at 40.”

“She’s not nuts, she just has her own orig­i­nal ideas,” tes­ti­fies Lerer’s mom, Yafit Tzukart, who has come from Safed to be with her daugh­ter, re­cov­er­ing at Hadas­sah Uni­ver­sity Med­i­cal Cen­ter in Jerusalem. “When she was 19, our son sug­gested his friend Hanan as a pos­si­ble hus­band for Esti. But be­fore they met, my hus­band warned Hanan that Esti has a big heart but she’s un­con­ven­tional. Hanan said that was ex­actly what he was look­ing for.”

Still, when they dis­cussed life goals on a first date and Lerer told him she wanted to do­nate a kid­ney, he said he’d need time to think about it. They were both 19.

Lerer grew up, the sixth of eight chil­dren, in the Negev de­vel­op­ment town of Ofakim, where she of­ten de­liv­ered food to needy fam­i­lies. The fa­ther of her best friend and next-door neigh­bor, Tali, suf­fered for years from kid­ney dis­ease. He died when Lerer was 16.

“It was the eve of Passover,” she says. “I promised my­self then that one day I would do­nate my kid­ney to save some­one like Tali’s dad.”

She learned about the age limit and the wari­ness of ac­cept­ing a kid­ney from a woman who hadn’t given birth, but she wasn’t dis­cour­aged.

“On ev­ery date with Hanan I brought it up,” she said. “It wasn’t some­thing you could just wave away.”

Three months af­ter they met, they were en­gaged.

Esti works as a coun­selor for youth at risk, and the cou­ple owns a cor­ner mar­ket. Their chil­dren are seven, five and two.

“I was en­cour­aged by the sto­ries pub­li­cized by the Mat­nat Chaim (Gift of Life) or­ga­ni­za­tion of men and women who do­nated kid­neys,” she says. “The founder, Rabbi Ye­shayahu He­ber, is a kid­ney trans­plant re­cip­i­ent him­self. I liked the idea that a kid­ney can go to any­one – men, women, Jewish, non-Jewish. I knew that God would di­rect my kid­ney to the per­son who needed it most.”

‘What can I say to some­one who saved my life?’ he asks. ‘I can’t ever thank you enough.’

When her youngest was a year old, she phoned Mat­nat Chaim. She re­cites the num­ber aloud by heart: “(02)5000755. I called them a lot,” she laughs. “They warned me that I might be con­sid­ered too young, but said they would send me the forms for the blood screen­ing, and they would help me.”

Hanan kept his prom­ise and also of­fered his back­ing. Her mother was scared, but re­spected her daugh­ter’s choice. “I told her she’d have all my help and prayers.”

The ap­proval process had many set­backs. The worst was hav­ing her pa­pers torn up by a nephrol­o­gist. “I told the doc­tor that I was of age, a healthy woman, and de­ter­mined to save a life. She had no right to stop me. I’d find an­other hospi­tal that would take me.”

The most fre­quently asked ques­tion from those who wanted to dis­suade her? “Who will watch over your chil­dren if some­thing hap­pens to you?” “I told them, ‘the One who watches over them now.’”

Her rabbi said that if she was ac­cepted she should see it as a sign of Di­vine ap­proval, and that if not, she should make peace with it for the same rea­son. He con­ferred his bless­ing for her suc­cess.

De­spite the skep­ti­cism and bar­ri­ers, Lerer moved through the many phys­i­cal and men­tal health ex­am­i­na­tions. Warned that the Health Min­istry’s screen­ing board would be the tough­est, she asked to ad­dress it first, and spoke like an ad­vo­cate. When it fin­ished its in­quiries, she hur­ried home from Tel Aviv to Neveh Daniel in Gush Etzion to pick up her chil­dren.

“When I got there, my phone rang. It was a woman from Mat­nat Chaim telling me I’d been ac­cepted as a donor! I was shak­ing so hard I had to put down my tod­dler to make sure I’d heard her right.”

Soon she was talk­ing to the trans­plant co­or­di­na­tor at Hadas­sah. There was a per­fect match for her kid­ney. “A young man.”

She pre­pared her chil­dren, print­ing di­a­grams of kid­neys from the In­ter­net. Her five-year-old son was so moved he asked if he could give a sick child a kid­ney, too.

She told her em­ployer she’d be out for a week or two. She called her par­ents, who or­ga­nized a prayer net­work of fam­ily, stu­dents and friends for both her and the re­cip­i­ent. She checked into the hospi­tal.

“When my sis­ter ac­com­pa­nied me down the cor­ri­dor to the op­er­at­ing room, I thought of my feel­ing of walk­ing to the hup­pah,” she said. “I was ex­cited but not at all scared. The doc­tors and nurses put me at my ease. Do­nat­ing a kid­ney re­quires surgery but rarely im­pacts the donor’s long-term health.”

And then came the mo­ment when the sur­geon at her bed­side whis­pered that she was fine and that her kid­ney was al­ready help­ing the re­cip­i­ent.

“I wanted to shout with joy, but was afraid I’d scare the staff,” she said.

THE RE­CIP­I­ENT, 23, from Lod is the youngest of seven chil­dren, He made aliyah from Ethiopia with his wid­owed mother when he was a tod­dler. Hop­ing to vol­un­teer for an elite IDF unit, he be­gan a pre-army yeshiva for ex­tra train­ing. One day he felt sick. What was first mis­di­ag­nosed as gas­troen­teri­tis turned out to be kid­ney dis­ease. His con­di­tion de­te­ri­o­rated. For three years he’s been on a re­stricted diet and wa­ter in­take and un­der­go­ing dial­y­sis three times a week.

Soon af­ter surgery, Lerer went to visit him. Her chil­dren have brought him get-well bal­loons.

Lean­ing on Hanan’s arm, they take the el­e­va­tor down 10 floors to the re­cov­ery room.

“What can I say to some­one who saved my life?” he asks. “I can’t ever thank you enough.”

“All I gave you was a kid­ney,” said Lerer, a smile light­ing her eyes. “You’ve raised me to a whole new sphere of joy and mean­ing. Just get bet­ter fast.” The writer is the Is­rael di­rec­tor of pub­lic re­la­tions at Hadas­sah, the Women’s Zion­ist Or­ga­ni­za­tion of Amer­ica. Her lat­est book is A Daugh­ter of Many Moth­ers.

(Hadas­sah Uni­ver­sity Med­i­cal Cen­ter)

ESTI AND hus­band Hanan vis­it­ing the re­cip­i­ent.


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