April 19, 2024
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Ahavath Torah Holds Shabbaton to Encourage Kidney Donation

Engelwood–Rabbi Shmuel Goldin says that there is no higher act of chesed than someone willing to give of their own body to save the life of another. That’s why Congregation Ahavath Torah is teaming up with the Renewal organization this Shabbos, to educate people about saving a life by donating a kidney. At Friday night Oneg and Seudah Shlishit, men and women who have donated a kidney will speak about their experiences. A donor drive on Sunday morning will be headed by shul member Dr. David Serur of Englewood, Medical Director of Kidney/Pancreas Transplantation at New York Presbyterian Hospital/Weill-Cornell.

“I recognize that this is not for everyone, and it takes a certain kind of person who is willing and able to do this,” Rabbi Goldin said. “There is no pressure. But at the same time, there is a recognition that something Jewish law allows, when possible, should be encouraged.”

A common thread linking donors is a desire to alleviate suffering. That’s what motivated Rabbi Goldin’s wife, Barbara Goldin, to donate a kidney through Kidney Mitzvah, another Brooklyn-based organization that matches kidney donors and recipients, run by Chaya Lipshutz.

“I had read articles over the years about kidney donation and I thought this is something I could do,” Mrs. Goldin said. “Then I saw an ad on Teaneck shuls and thought ‘I’m healthy, my kids are out of the house now; I could really do that.’” Mrs. Goldin said she empathized with people who were helpless and she wanted to step in. “I thought about people who were waiting for something I could give.”

After a series of tests, and two matches that didn’t work out, Mrs. Golden donated a kidney last May. The recuperation was hard, she concedes. She returned to work on a limited basis after two weeks, and slowly got better. “Now that it’s all over and the pain is gone, it feels good. There’s nothing like helping people. When I met the recipient, after the surgery, I saw the tears coming out of his wife’s eyes. This was a new lease on life for him. He had a big smile on his face.”

The recipient’s wife, who wishes to remain anonymous, told JLBC that her husband is now doing great; the kidney is performing well. She is filled with gratitude for both Chaya Lipshutz, who arranged all details, and Mrs. Goldin. Her husband had been in declining health since suffering a heart attack 23 years ago. Three years ago, he was told he needed dialysis but resisted. He started “puffing up” and went to Englewood Hospital where he began the needed dialysis; a horrible procedure, according to his wife. She worked with Renewal and then was referred to Kidney Mitzvah by Rabbi Ephraim Simon at Chabad, Teaneck, who donated a kidney in 2009.

There were many stops and starts along the way; her husband had medical setbacks or the donor didn’t work out. Mrs. Goldin was the tenth and final prospective donor. “I give thanks first to God and then to Chaya and Barbara,” she said.

Renewal was founded in 2006 by Mendy Reiner, a real estate investor who currently serves as chairman, after meeting a man with kidney disease who was desperately searching for a kidney donor. The man was on dialysis three to four times a week, and due to his illness had to sell his successful supermarket business. Reiner decided to help. He put an ad in a local newspaper and got over 20 responses. Some asked if he could help their relatives with kidney disease. Others asked how they could donate a kidney. “He saw a need and an answer, people who would consider giving of themselves to save lives. That prompted him to start the organization,” said Boruch Dombroff, Director of Special Projects for Renewal. This past year, Renewal facilitated 57 matches bringing the total to over 250.

Dombroff said Renewal registers on all national lists, creates ads, and does “whatever we determine is the best way to find a donor.” While medical expenses for the donor are covered by the recipient’s insurance, Renewal provides additional financial support including reimbursement for loss of wages, travel, and recovery time after the surgery. “We do whatever is needed to make the donor comfortable. That’s why we have a very high percentage of people who contemplate and end in donation,” Dombroff said.

Renewal works mostly, but not exclusively, with the Jewish community and has endorsements from several rabbis on its website. Dombroff said that most contemporary halachic authorities are in favor of live kidney donation. Not only is kidney donation permissible for Jews, according to Rabbi Goldin, “It is an opportunity for a Kiddush Hashem. It is halachically allowable.”

“The position has changed over the years based on medical advancement,” Rabbi Dombroff explained. “Although it is full-fledged surgery, it is routine enough that you are not considered putting your life at risk to save someone else.” Renewal works with major transplant centers that have at least an average success rate.

There have been recent problems with live kidney transplant programs. Hackensack Hospital halted live kidney transplants on April 17, 2012 due to a recipient death rate three times the national average. The program at Montefiore Hospital in New York was shut down after a donor died during the operation on May 23, 2012. Both programs were revamped and the hospitals are currently performing live kidney transplants.

On Sunday morning, Dr. Serur, a nephrologist, or kidney specialist, who has worked with Renewal since it was founded, will speak about what it means to donate a kidney and conduct an initial screening for those considering kidney donation. He said having only one kidney is safe, as long as the donor is healthy. Anyone with high blood pressure or diabetes cannot be considered. For anyone else interested, he said “we’ll check vital signs, take a medical history and do a blood test to see if they match any recipients on the list. If there is a match, I will ask them to come to the center at Cornell where we will do more testing to make sure they are healthy. If all the testing determines it’s a good match, the transplant will be scheduled. The surgery is done laparoscopically from one entry point, one nick to the belly button. It used to be four or five.” Dr. Serur said the surgery takes about three hours.

Kidney disease strikes people of all ages, although most are between fifty and seventy years old. There are many causes. Dr. Serur said some women develop kidney disease after childbirth. Diabetes impacts kidneys. And some people are born with malfunction of the kidneys that go on to failure later in life.

Renewal is completely self-funded; there is no government assistance. Dombroff said Renewal’s budget is $1.2 million dollars and more is needed to continue to grow. Renewal’s success can be measured in wait times. Nationally, the average wait for a kidney is 5–7 years. With Renewal, the average is 6–9 months.

There is currently a person from Teaneck searching for a kidney donor. “It makes it more real for people in the community to know someone next door is in need,” Dombroff said. He’s hoping perhaps a donor will step forward at the Renewal Shabbaton. “Perhaps for him or for someone else in need. You will potentially be saving someone’s life.”

By Bracha Schwartz

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