My name is Dan Cohen. I have been a resident of Teaneck and Englewood for almost 30 years. In May 2013, thanks to the incredible team of Renewal and Hashem and an amazingly generous man from Rockland County, I was fortunate enough to receive a kidney transplant at Weill Cornell Medical Center. If you’ll indulge me, I would like to share with you what this incredible miracle has meant for me and the wonderful effect it has had on my life.
I was unfortunate enough to inherit the congenital disorder called Polycystic Kidney Disease, which has gone back generations on the maternal side of my family. We don’t know for sure beyond my grandmother, as there is nobody left to offer a family history of this sort, but the disease had to have been there in Europe in the 1800’s and beyond, as there have been cousins in Europe and elsewhere who have suffered from the disease as well.
We do know that in 1936, my grandmother passed away of kidney failure in her early 40’s. In those days, there was no such thing as organ transplantation, and no one had begun offering dialysis treatments, though I’m sure there were researchers playing with the concept. My mother was diagnosed at some point in the 1960s, and she fully expected to have the same fate as her mother. Fortunately, she was able to live a reasonably normal life through her 40s, and she began dialysis at age 52. At that time, the doctor shared with us that the life expectancy of a dialysis patient might extend as far as five years. Through careful monitoring of her eating and drinking, religiously taking her medications, and the most amazingly positive attitude anyone could ever have, my mom actually lived for 21½ years on dialysis. She was never a truly viable candidate for transplant, as the practice was still in its infancy as she began dialysis, and by the time transplantation started to become a bit more prevalent, she was really too sick.
During the time that my mom was on dialysis, I met the woman that would become my wife, and we decided it would be a good thing to know whether I too had the disease. At age 28, I was tested, and sure enough, I was diagnosed with the disease. Bad news! An unexpected side effect of this diagnosis was that I would never again be approved for a life or disability insurance policy. Of course, much more than that, I was concerned about my future, based on my mother‘s and grandmother’s histories.
I began delving into what the research community knew about the disease and how it might be possible for me to put off the onset of the disease as much as possible. I started adjusting my diet according to the findings of the Polycystic Kidney Research Foundation. Sure enough, I was able to stay truly healthy through my 30s and my 40s.
Once I reached my 50s my kidney function began to slowly tail off, and at 55 I was told that I should begin preparing myself for the likelihood that in the next year or two I would need dialysis. The doctors suggested that I should see about getting on the kidney transplant waiting list. Shortly after I turned 56, my kidney function had deteriorated to the point that I qualified to be added to the waiting list at Cornell. At that time, I was told that the wait for a Type O kidney was likely between 6 and 8 years.
The problem was that I was getting sicker. My stamina was depleted greatly; I was falling asleep at work at least 3-4 afternoons a week no matter what I did to prevent it. I also had frequent pains in my lower back and just a general malaise.
One of the aspects of Polycystic is that the kidneys grow quite large due to all the cysts – in fact when my kidneys were removed during my transplant, they were the size of footballs. The normal kidney is about the size of your fist. These monster kidneys truly caused me many issues, especially the lower back pain I just alluded to. And then, finally, over the summer of 2012, it became evident that I would need dialysis imminently, as my health truly was not good.
I began dialysis the day after Yom Kippur in September 2012. Knowing about my mother’s success with dialysis treatments, I fully expected to follow a similar path with the treatments, thinking it would be no problem to have the longevity that she had. Unfortunately, my body really didn’t react well to the treatments. In one 3½-hour treatment, my blood pressure would fluctuate from very low (100/70) to very high (210/100). I was getting leg cramps almost every treatment. And of course there was getting stuck with those huge needles. My arm was a pin cushion; every single needle stick just hurt insanely, and there were two sticks every treatment three times a week.
I knew I had to do something. Not only was I not going to last 21 years, but how could I ever last the 6-8 years until a transplant? I went to Philadelphia to get listed at Penn (in addition to Cornell). I also got listed at Yale up in Connecticut. I investigated other possibilities. I listed with several services on line. Then someone suggested Renewal, so I went to Borough Park and met with them. What amazing caring people they were!
As it turns out, it took about 8 months (rather than 8 years) for Renewal to find me a donor. An amazing Rosh Kollel from New Square, Rav Yaakov Byer, had come forward when he heard that someone in his community with Type O needed a kidney. Unfortunately, Rav Yaakov was not a match for that person. The people at Renewal asked if he would consider donating to someone else who was Type O. He said he needed to think about it. A few days later, he called Renewal back and told them that he was willing to go ahead with it. After testing, it turned out that I had won the lottery, and I was a match for Rav Yaakov! I was getting a new kidney!
Hashem was truly wonderful to me in arranging this match. From day 1, the kidney worked like magic. I continued to feel better every day. And now, after over two years, I feel as healthy as I have ever been! The true highlight of my life is that I am able to play with my incredible grandson who was born 4 days after my transplant. It is an amazing experience! You see, I also inherited a legacy from my father’s side of the family. No Cohen man in at least four generations had survived to see the birth of a grandchild. I broke that chain thanks to this wonderful miracle.
After years of my doctors forbidding me to do so (as they thought undergoing anesthesia would kill my kidneys), I was healthy enough that I had my knee replaced last June, which has brought me the ability for the most part to walk without pain. My leg is now so much better than it has been in many years.
I am so grateful for every day, waking up without having to think about where my blood pressure is on a daily basis or how I am going to survive the long work day. I no longer have to undergo the enormous discomfort of those dialysis treatments. I can just live a normal life!
And it’s all thanks to Hashem, Renewal, and my donor, Rav Yaakov.
There are currently about 100,000 people in the US who are waiting for kidney transplants. There are over 300 million people in this country. Obviously, some of those 300 million are not healthy enough themselves to donate a kidney. But all it would take is 1 out of every 3000 people to donate a kidney and the entire problem would be eliminated completely! Something to think about…
As it turns out, after Rav Yaakov donated to me, several of his students saw what an amazing experience it was for him and have come forward themselves; some are in the process of donating kidneys as well while others have already donated. A wonderful miracle! The actions of Rav Yaakov, coupled with the dedication of the Renewal team, will transform the lives of countless fellow Jews worldwide. What better way to honor this phenomenon than to donate in some way to Renewal and help alleviate the suffering of Jews like me?