Wow, it’s hard to believe it’s been a year since that fateful day last May that changed everything. Twelve months, 52 weeks, 365 days, 525,600 minutes, since I saved someone’s life. On May 21, 2019, I donated my kidney to a stranger and gave him a second chance at life. Looking back at this past year it would seem that nothing has changed. I still work, take care of my children and exercise. I go to the supermarket, make Shabbos and pay bills. Sure, I have a tiny scar near my belly button that serves as a physical reminder of my donation. Yes, I’ve had to switch from Advil to Tylenol as my pain killer of choice, and true my tackle football days are over, but other than that I’m just as healthy, if not healthier, than I was when I had two kidneys. This past year, however, has been completely different from any other year of my entire life.
As a result of my kidney donation I have been privileged to become part of a few new families. First and foremost, the Renewal family. I have met and become close with many of the leaders of this life-saving organization. I have found a kinship with other donors and wives of donors. I have been privileged to speak and share my story at Renewal events and help with swabbing, and have spoken to many prospective donors. I have been honored to visit donors in the hospital following their surgeries just as previous donors visited me. I have seen crowds of people come together in search of a kidney for someone they love. I was privileged to spend many hours with my dear friend and fellow kidney donor, Micah Kaufman, visiting and helping at one of the first donations at Hackensack Hospital. I have seen the whole process from the inside and I am in awe.
I have also gotten to speak to prospective donors before they get to Renewal and help guide them and answer their questions. I was privileged to spend many hours on the phone with a stranger, a friend’s coworker, who was set to donate to her father and was absolutely terrified. I was able to cry with her in anticipation and celebrate with both her and her father after the success of their transplant.
Second, I was welcomed with open arms into my recipient’s family. I am one of the donors who did not get to meet my recipient before our surgeries; in fact, I did not get to meet him until seven months (to the day) later. My recipient and I had a very emotional meeting and shared our feelings and our thoughts at great length. We’ve gotten to celebrate each other’s birthdays together with text messages and emails. Throughout the COVID-19 crisis we have checked in on each other and given each other strength. We are bonded for life and it is wonderful. In January when my family and I visited Israel during winter vacation, my husband and I had the opportunity to meet my recipient’s sister and niece. We spent hours sitting at Café Rimon in the Mamilla Mall learning all about each other and enjoying each other’s company. My children ask about my recipient very often and inquire as to his health and well-being. There is a constant back and forth between us and we are very much a part of each other’s lives.
This past year has changed my perspective on life and the way I live it. I’ve always loved the quote from Rabbi Nachman of Breslav that says, “The day you were born is the day God decided the world could not exist without you,” and that rings true for each and every one of us. Every one of us was put on this earth for a reason and with a mission to fulfill. There is simply no one else who can do it for us. We are each extremely precious to Hashem, and just because He deemed to put us on this earth we are special. It has never mattered what are outward appearances are or if we practice differently; we are all Hashem’s children and He loves us. This past year I have seen that up close and personal. I have never felt more love than I have in this past year, from my family, my community, my new Renewal family and the Jewish community as a whole.
The entire world is facing difficult times right now, and we are all in this together. But unfortunately once this is over, Renewal is aware that there will be more challenges to contend with. According to Dr. Stuart Greenstein, a transplant nephrologist at Montefiore Medical Center, more than 30% of COVID patients who spent time in the ICU are facing kidney injury. Many endured dialysis during their hospitalizations.
Even once these patients are out of the woods they may be facing years of being tied to dialysis machines waiting for a new kidney. This is a real crisis that cannot be taken lightly. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, there were thousands of people waiting for kidneys across the United States and now there may be tens of thousands. Renewal is launching a campaign to raise awareness for this new need that is arising. There is going to be a flood of new recipients hitting the system and we need more donors.
This year, on May 21, I had hoped to host a get together to celebrate the anniversary of this monumental day. I had hoped to maybe meet my recipient and his wife for a celebratory dinner. I had hoped to take my kids somewhere special just because. I had hoped to see a different world, where we’d all be back home in Yerushalyim with Mashiach… instead, I will likely be in quarantine, luckily safe at home with my family. I’ll still reflect on the greatness of the day that changed my life for the better, the day that turned into the year that taught me so much about myself and all of Klal Yisreal. The day that I know will shape the way I live the rest of my life.
Twelve months, 52 weeks, 365 days, 525,600 minutes. Wow, what a year.
Aviva Breda runs her own business specializing in personal shopping services and party/event planning. She lives with her family in Teaneck.