Kidney donors are frequently lauded for the gifts they bestow upon their recipients: the gift of health, of family, of life. But as I reflect upon my journey as a kidney donor, I find myself focusing on the gifts I received: the gifts of being a kidney donor. The period of time leading up to transplant day was truly life-changing. Each of the “gifts” I received represents a distinct area of my life that required growth and attention; all three are inextricably intertwined.
My first gift was self-transformation. When I became aware of a need in my community for a kidney donor, I went to do the preliminary testing: a simple blood test, the results of which would determine the need for further testing. I had previously donated blood and platelets but was unaware of what kidney donation entailed. I underwent extensive physical and psychological testing to determine my physical and emotional health. I spoke to doctors, my rabbi, and other donors, many of whom gave me extensive amounts of time, information, inspiration, and strength. I transformed from unsure and cautious to enthusiastic and confident; I chose to donate. The Rav who I reached out to didn’t know me personally, yet he recognized what I needed to work on; he advised me to recognize G-d in my life. I responded, “What about the transplant?” He replied, “Get tested, go through the process, but look for G-d”. This leads to my next gift: connection to G-d.
As I encountered obstacles and challenges, I worked at tuning into G-d’s presence in my life, viewing myself as a cog in the wheel and not the driver (though I’ve always liked being in the driver’s seat!). I visited my primary doctor for a check-up towards the end of the testing to discuss my plan to donate my kidney. She unexpectedly found something that required further examination. The next month was filled with tests, fear, and concern, but also tremendous hashgacha, support, and peace. I saw firsthand how G-d watches out for me; I witnessed Him actively handling things and humbly stepped out of the way. The final outcome was good, thank G-d; the practice of surrendering my will was truly invaluable!
The days leading up to the surgery felt like Yom Kippur. I contacted people to make amends, required specific prep prior to surgery… and fasted the day of surgery! As I entered the waiting area with my husband very early that morning, I was filled with gratitude – and butterflies in my stomach. As surgery drew closer, everyone was asked to leave; it was me and G-d. I asked if I could wear my beret under the surgical cap to ensure that my hair remained covered; my request was denied. But as they took me back, a young nurse approached and said, “I used to be an Orthodox Jew, but I’m not practicing anymore. I’ll make sure you are covered during surgery.” I was floored! At that moment I knew that G-d would watch over me.
The third gift I received is connection to community. It was extremely humbling to experience the outpouring of communal support and love after surgery. For many years I was uncomfortable with people putting themselves out for me; I shied away from offers of help. One of the most meaningful aspects of the months prior to the surgery was the countless hours that Menachem Friedman from Renewal spent on the phone, encouraging and educating me. He played an enormous part in my kidney donation; I cannot express the depths of my gratitude to him. He introduced me to many donors, including a chassidishe woman from Williamsburg named Malka.
Menachem Friedman told me he wanted to come for the surgery, but it would mean Shabbos away from his family. I was so moved that he even considered it! Instead, he surprised me and flew Malka down for Shabbos to support me. I was speechless and emotional when she arrived. A woman who didn’t know me left her children… for me! Friends took my children for the Shabbos after the surgery, enabling my husband to stay with me. They organized meals and I felt loved – rather than awkward – and grateful. I realized that the transplant wasn’t about me; others wanted to be a part of it. I was approached by many people who shared changes they’d made to their lives, inspired by my donation. I received flowers, gifts, heartfelt cards, donations in my honor, offers for grocery shopping, and help with my little girl, Sara. This time was a humbling, heartwarming, tremendous gift. People have called me a hero. Truthfully, this process transformed me; I may be a donor, but I’m also a recipient of the greatest gifts imaginable. A special donor said something that I can only now understand: “My only regret is that I can’t do it again.”