Friday, March 31, 2023

My name is Larry Rothwachs. Last week, I donated a kidney. A little background may be in order. I am not, by nature, a risk taker or a thrill seeker. I don’t ski nor jump out of planes. In fact, I don’t even enjoy thrill rides. The closest I will ever get to a roller coaster is observing my kids from the safe and secure ground below.

Several months ago, I received a phone call from Josh Hain. His brother Donny was in need of a kidney and he was reaching out to me to inquire if our shul would be willing to host an event with Renewal, an organization that provides resources and assistance to kidney donors and recipients (http://www.life-renewal.org/). The goals of such a program were quite simple; to raise communal awareness about kidney donation and identify a willing and suitable match for his brother. I responded in the affirmative and a tentative date was set.

For me, one challenge remained. It was explained to me that Renewal would prefer that the host rabbi address his congregation regarding kidney donation. While I certainly do not practice everything I preach, it became clear to me that I would be required to formulate, certainly for myself and then perhaps for my congregants, how I could preach about kidney donation, while I myself could/should/would never donate myself.

The questions were both obvious and compelling.

• How could I, husband of a selfless and devoted wife, give away a vital organ that I myself may possibly need in the future?

• How could I, loving and proud father of five beautiful children (and b’ezras Hashem one day grandchildren), diminish my own biological resources, possibly jeopardizing my own health, if not short term, than long term?

• How could I, rebbi of over 40 open and impressionable young minds and souls, act in a way that recklessly models myopic judgment and displays a lack of regard for the most precious gift in the world, my health?

• How could I, rabbi of an active and vibrant congregation, find the time in my already crammed schedule, to dedicate hours upon hours to pre-testing and screening?

• How could I, a man over 40 years old, whose time is already stretched thin with a set schedule, fixed routine, prepared meals, etc. effectively introduce the many lifestyle changes that one would expect to be necessary to accommodate such an extreme anatomical disruption?

• How could I, a mere mortal, completely dependent upon the infinite kindness of the Creator, surrender a part of my anatomy that was purposely designed with absolute perfection and gifted to me with divine wisdom?

These were some of the questions that triggered a process of soul searching, medical research and personal consultation. (Of note, before deciding to be screened, I sought explicit permission from my wife and rebbi. My wife offered her complete support, conditional upon the full consent of my rebbi. My rebbi offered his complete support, conditional upon the full consent of my wife.)

Needless to say, I discovered answers to my questions. Ultimately, I found the answers to be not only satisfying but, in many ways, even more compelling than the questions ever were. I feel that it would be presumptuous of me to elaborate in such a public forum on the details of these discoveries. Nonetheless, I offer myself completely and unconditionally to share my thoughts with any prospective donors.

Last Tuesday evening, upon waking up in a recovery room in Montefiore Hospital, I was informed that Donny Hain was out of surgery and his new kidney was functioning properly, a necessary first step towards resumption of the life he enjoyed before being sentenced to the indescribable nightmares associated with chronic renal failure.

Having made the decision to donate my kidney, I see myself neither as heroic nor superior. The only practical advantage that I have perhaps gained (albeit for a fleeting moment), and seek to capitalize on, is your attention. I have a practical message that I would like very much to convey.

Is my message that we should all get up and donate our kidneys? Certainly not!

To be clear, many individuals would not qualify to be acceptable donors, should they even want to. Some would be disqualified for physiological reasons, other due to emotional concerns. Others may indeed qualify and express a willingness, but will not have sufficient support from family (which is essential!) to proceed. And of course, I fully recognize and completely respect that many could not even bring themselves to be screened. No one should ever be encouraged to donate a kidney. Ultimately, the decision to donate is a deeply personal one and that fact must be recognized and respected by all.

What I would ask for though and hope the community could accept is that we simply commit to become more informed and educated regarding live organ donation. It is natural and most appropriate to focus on what is being risked or lost from such a procedure. But it is also important to consider what can be gained, by recipient and donor alike. I believe it is incumbent, if not an obligation, upon those who have been blessed with good health to study the scientific research, seek proper halachic counsel and consult with past organ donors, so that decisions that are rendered reflect minds that are educated and informed.

May the true and only rofeh ne’eman, the bochein k’layos v’lev, grant us the wisdom and courage to serve Him properly and honorably at all times.

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