I'd struggled with obesity since the age of 9. It’s a difficult life for a kid; my friends would joke about my weight and my older brother tormented me. By 18 years of age I topped out at my current height of 6’and weighed 230 pounds. As life got busier, I lost sight of my physical wellbeing and thoroughly convinced myself – as I had always done – that I was not fat, simply well built.
At the age of 27, I experienced episodes of shortness of breath and numbness in my chest and left arm, especially when doing simple tasks like climbing a flight of stairs. After several trips to the doctor and a failed stress test, a cardiologist determined that I may have had a blocked artery due to my obesity. I weighed approximately 270 pounds and my cholesterol was high. I underwent an angiogram – yes, an angiogram, at age 27! – to search for the culprit.
To everybody’s surprise I, Thank G-d, did NOT have a blocked artery! The doctors determined that my weight and a pinched nerve were causing my discomfort. I tried losing weight through a fad diet but never incorporated real lifestyle changes or proper exercise. As a result the weight loss was only temporary and I soon gained it all back – and then some.
A couple years later, I attended my older brother’s wedding. I was at least 285 lbs. (possibly more); I was thoroughly ashamed of how I looked in the pictures but once again I was “well-built.” My doctor tried to convince me to take care of myself. He suggested getting down to 215 pounds. I thought he was nuts, that a guy of my build would look emaciated at that weight, and continued deceiving myself. My cholesterol was in the mid to high 200s, my 8-hour fasting triglycerides were over 300, my
blood pressure was always 140/90… yet I continued to believe that I was in shape. The next year, my father-in-law suffered kidney failure as a side effect of his congestive heart failure. The doctors were discussing dialysis and possible organ donation. I immediately offered to test for compatibility. His doctor wrote me a prescription for the necessary blood tests, which I put in my wallet in anticipation of going to get tested the following week. Later that week I got the news that inexplicably his kidney function was improving and they would delay dialysis. I never took the compatibility tests.
The following year I attended another brother’s wedding. During the dancing I felt a serious pain in my knee, which began to swell. The doctor advised that my ball playing once a week without any other exercise was the cause of the pain and that most likely I would never be pain-free again. He also believed that if I continued to carry such weight and play ball we would likely be replacing the knee within 10 years. He suggested that I stop playing ball permanently unless I wanted to live a life of pain.
Finally, the implications of my weight set in. That’s what did it for me! The idea that I would not be able to play ball with my son did not sit well with me. I set out on a life-changing journey. I immediately started a healthy diet regimen while attending physical therapy for my knee. Within half a year I was going to the gym 5 times a week and I weighed in at 191 pounds, with my cholesterol and blood pressure consistent and normal. I was also pain-free in my knee and continued to play basketball at a level that I never had in my entire life. Now I was truly well-built.
Shortly thereafter, we received the news that my father-in-law’s kidneys were failing again and dialysis was imminent. Again, I offered to test. I was shocked to learn that kidneys don’t necessarily need a genetic match and can be done in many cases on blood type match alone. I was type O and he was AB which meant the odds were in his favor. I was also a 2 out of 6 genetic point match, which helped. What I did not know was that most living donors get rejected due to their own physical conditions and limitations to go through surgery.
Not two days after finding out that I was a qualified candidate, I was going through my wallet when I came across a piece of paper that I had forgotten all about. It was the original prescription for the kidney cross-matching blood work. I now know that had I tested back then, I would have been a blood type and genetic match; however, I would have been rejected due to my physical condition and would have assumed I would never be a possible candidate for donation.
It almost seems surreal that inexplicably his kidney function returned within normal limits and I subsequently got healthy with no thought of donation whatsoever, yet the two are so cosmically intertwined it is almost unbelievable. Being a religious person I know the truth: God gave my father-in-law two extra years of kidney function so that his donor would be able to go through the life changes necessary to save both of our lives.
On February 2, 2005, we both entered the hospital for the transplant. Thank God, all went well and his body accepted my kidney. My strength returned quickly and I resumed my workouts shortly thereafter.
Today, I am a father of four and grandfather of two. I maintain – and enjoy – a healthy lifestyle, starting my day at 5 by going to Kollel. I exercise regularly, cycling over 4,000 miles a year, and have participated in the last seven Bike 4 Chai 180-mile cycling events. I am involved in many tzedakah campaigns and have realized my dream of spreading awareness to other potential kidney donors, advocating for living kidney donation.