May 18, 2024
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May 18, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

The Great Surprise

Once upon a time, kidney donation couldn’t have been further from my mind.

Today, it’s part of my reality.

As teenagers, my younger brother and I periodically perused various publications, frequently happening upon inspirational articles about kidney donors, people who had given away a part of themselves. At our tender ages, we’d casually skip those essays with nary a second thought.

One day, my brother stopped on one of those pages. Thoughtfully, he wondered aloud: Why are so few people donating their kidneys? Does one need special qualifications? If everyone would be able to save a life—even if it took physical sacrifice—wouldn’t we all run to do it?

Interesting. I’d never thought about it from that angle. Who said your average person couldn’t donate a kidney?

At that moment, a seed was planted in my mind. I’d imagine myself in the role of kidney donor, conjuring up the face and life story of the person whose life I’d save, dreaming of the day when I’d be fortunate enough to earn the title of “kidney donor.”

Several years passed. A dialysis center opened near my home, and I bore witness daily to the plight of those struggling with kidney disease. Patients would appear several times a week, weakened and ill, and spend hours attached to machinery that would replace just a third of the function that my kidneys performed each day. These patients were slaves to their diseases, controlled by the limitations of one internal organ.

I became more determined than ever before to live my dream.

Shortly thereafter, I married a wonderful woman. I shelved my dream for a time, apprehensive about my wife’s potentially discouraging reaction; I intended to discuss it after our first anniversary. But the opportunity arose just a few short months later, when a conversation turned to lifelong dreams. I anticipated typical dream fare from my wife, but she shocked me with her divulgence: “I have two dreams; the first one is to donate my kidney to a fellow Jew in need.”

Talk about a match made in heaven!

I contacted Renewal and sent in my preliminary testing swabs. On erev Tisha B’Av, I finally heard those thrilling words: We have a match.

The woman on the phone began to explain that I was a tentative match for a 64-year-old woman from Boro Park. I didn’t wait to hear the details; I’d been ready for years.

With the wholehearted support of my wife, parents and in-laws, I set out to fulfill my dream.

And that’s when the magic began.

As I underwent further testing to determine that I was truly the best candidate for my recipient, my mother-in-law nonchalantly asked if we knew the recipient’s identity, since her aunt—a 64-year-old woman from Boro Park—desperately needed a kidney.

Renewal does not share the recipient’s personal details to ensure anonymity and comfort. But I had to know. Shivering with anticipation, I called Renewal and asked them point-blank if they could confirm that the recipient was, in fact, my wife’s great-aunt; to everyone’s shock and joy, Renewal (with her permission) confirmed that she was! Renewal asked that I not contact her at all until the transplant in accordance with their policies.

I was overwhelmed with emotion and gratefulness for the clearly visible Yad Hashem. I planned on donating my kidney regardless of recipient, but the fact that she turned out to be a relative made it infinitely more special.

The days leading to surgery were a whirlwind of emotion, my mind at hyperspeed. I was positive that I was doing the right thing, yet incredibly nervous. Would the surgery be successful? Would my great-aunt’s body accept my kidney? Would we recover smoothly?

September 14 was a day I will never forget. My wife and I entered Mount Sinai and found ourselves directly behind my great-aunt and her husband. My great-uncle looked at us, comprehension dawning, shock and admiration warring in his eyes. For a moment, he was unable to utter a sound; then he blurted, “I can’t believe it’s you! We wondered for so long about the mysterious 24-year-old who was going to save my wife.”

Surgery went smoothly and I awoke to the incredible news that my kidney was working in its new environment. I fell back into a truly contented sleep, at peace at last; I’d finally realized my dream. The indispensable assistance of Renewal—particularly Menachem Friedman and Aaron Feder, who were there for me and my family throughout the entire process and beyond—granted me a new facet of my identity: kidney donor, a title that I bear with pride.

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