Nettie Herman

In May 2017, my world fell apart when I was informed that my seven-year-old daughter, Bella, needed a kidney transplant within a few weeks. For years, my husband and I knew that the fateful day would arrive, but we were expecting and hoping that Bella’s kidneys would last her through adolescence. However, kidney disease has a mind of its own and Bella’s kidney function was rapidly deteriorating. Her medical team was from another state and informed us that donor testing on my husband and myself would take several weeks—weeks that Bella could not spare without starting dialysis and requiring a blood transfusion which could complicate a transplant.  We did not have much time to deliberate; we knew we needed help—fast—in identifying the right transplant center in New York.

My first phone call when I awoke from my emotional paralysis was to Renewal. I had known Renewal for years and supported their work, but I didn’t think I would need their help if I was ready and willing to be my daughter’s donor.  In the blink of an eye, when I needed medical clearance NOW, a transplant center and date NOW, I realized I needed help NOW. I didn’t have several weeks because I didn’t want Bella to suffer on dialysis. Why should she—my sweet, innocent, joyful child who trusted that her doctors and Hashem would make everything ok?

Through tears, I conveyed my dilemma to Renewal.  The first thing they told me was that everything would be all right.  The second thing was that they immediately set me up for donor testing at Mt Sinai Hospital the next day.  I would complete all labs, checkups and medical tests within one week.  Renewal also helped connect us to a top-notch medical team for Bella and to meet with her surgeon, Dr. Ron Shapiro.  Since hospitals are bureaucratic and surgical appointments are difficult to secure, it was invaluable to have Renewal coordinating and overseeing the entire process.  To navigate this system alone would have proved daunting and overwhelming.  For some families, navigating the hospital process involves only the donor or recipient side, but in our case we needed Renewal to help coordinate both sides.  

We smoothly sailed through medical testing and set a transplant date.  Then lightning struck.  One day before the transplant, Bella’s nephrologist called with unexpected and medically impossible news—my final crossmatch test with Bella’s blood came back positive, meaning that although all previous tests had indicated that I was compatible as my daughter’s donor, this time her body had developed antibodies that reacted against my organs and cells.  For someone who did not yet start dialysis or have blood transfusions, this result did not make medical sense.  Bella’s nephrologist felt this was a lab error, but lab errors of this sort are relatively uncommon and in any case, the transplant could not proceed.  Suddenly, reality dawned that I possibly couldn’t donate and to test my husband would take another week.

 

Time was running out—what if my husband wasn’t medically cleared to donate?  What if her hemoglobin level plummeted tomorrow, requiring an immediate blood transfusion that might hurt her odds of a successful transplant?  Why would something “medically impossible” strike us now?  I’ll never forget Renewal’s next phone call.  I will never comprehend why G-d created my sweet daughter with kidney disease, but maybe I can understand why G-d threw the unexpected crossmatch my way.  “Netti, don’t panic,” I remember AJ and Menachem calling together.  “There is a young, religious man who has already completed donor testing at Mt Sinai, and he is a match for Bella.  If we repeat the crossmatch test one more time on you and the result doesn’t clear up, he is going in on June 13 to donate to Bella.  She is getting a kidney, whether it is yours or his.”

How do you describe the feeling when you are drowning, and then someone dives in and scoops you up so you resurface, gasping for air? Where did this young Chassidic man come from?  Why would he unselfishly and unhesitatingly rescue me, a stranger whom he has never met, a Jew from Taiwan so different from himself? Our worlds and communities had no reason to merge.  Except now our worlds did merge, and the life of a seven-year-old was the reason.  For 24 hours while my husband and I waited for the results of my repeated crossmatch test, the only thought that sustained us was the image of this unknown angel.  If I couldn’t donate, he would be my backup.  He would be there, my Chassidic friend. Other than our wedding day, the only other time I have ever seen my husband shed so many tears was during this 24-hour waiting period while he internalized a stranger’s altruistic kindness.

The repeated crossmatch test ultimately confirmed the lab error.  On June 13, 2017, Bella and I were simultaneously wheeled into surgery.  I had the easy job of meeting the anesthesiologist, closing my eyes, and awakening 3-4 hours later to the words “it’s done.”  My husband had the impossible job of sitting in the waiting room, waiting, waiting…. hours upon hours to hear first that the surgery went well for his wife, and a few hours later that it was also a success for his daughter.

 

Every step of the way, Renewal held our hands, confidently navigating the medical system, while compassionately and gently soothing our frayed emotions.  I’ll never forget the moment, minutes before I closed my eyes, when AJ stood over me with his hands in the air, reciting the priestly blessing.  I felt Hashem’s presence over me, assuring me of a great outcome. One month after the transplant, my Chassidic friend donated his kidney to another recipient, a man from South Africa who had been suffering on dialysis for years.  I had the great privilege to finally meet him and his wife, along with their recipient.  I consider all of them family, and I consider Renewal an organization that partners with Hashem to create miracles—how else would I explain a kidney journey that has directly linked Jews from Taiwan, South Africa and the United States?  I could not have done this alone. Nor would I want to.

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