Dialysis is a grueling, exhausting existence. As a former dialysis patient, I am, unfortunately, well-informed of the rigors of treatment. Though it’s not painful, the process is incredibly inconvenient and fraught with difficulty: the risk of infection, the accompanying fatigue, the life-changing effects and scheduling hassles. I’d leave my house at 5:30 am on dialysis days, endure four hours of treatment, return to my office near the facility, and work for as long as my depleted energy allowed – three days out of every seven.
As taxing as dialysis was, it was my only alternative. There are only two ways out of the regimen: receive a kidney transplant, or die. When I was diagnosed with polycystic kidney disease (PKD), I learned that the disease slows kidney function until the organs shut down in absence of intervention. I underwent dialysis to replace the function of my failing kidneys. Prior to beginning treatment, I had contacted Renewal; once I saw that there were no other options, I visited their office to begin the process of finding a donor.
The organization urges patients to reach out to friends and relatives via social media and other means to contact as many people as possible in hopes of finding an appropriate donor. Naturally, we started with my family; my eligible children were not suitable matches. We broadened the search to include acquaintances, neighbors, and business contacts; my rabbi, Rabbi Yaakov Lerner of Young Israel of Great Neck, made an appeal to the congregation, informing them of the opportunity to help a fellow congregant who was in need of a kidney.
Unfortunately, none of the traditional tactics resulted in a match. Renewal mobilized their “troops” and ultimately located a donor match in Monsey. I underwent an extensive battery of tests – physical and psychological – to confirm my eligibility for a transplant and was found to be a qualifying candidate. The testing took place at Mount Sinai Hospital; the respect that the hospital has for Renewal helped pave the way to my subsequent kidney transplant. Renewal stood beside me throughout the entire process: seeking and finding a donor, engaging with the hospital, and seeing me through surgery and recovery, visiting me almost daily at home during my recuperation.
Throughout it all, I marveled at the selflessness of my unidentified donor, a young man who didn’t receive any kind of compensation for his noble deed. I first met my donor weeks after surgery; I wanted him to see me as a healthy man due solely to his altruism. We have since forged a deep bond – I quite literally consider him a brother from another mother. I’ve visited with him in his home, met his wife – who was eight months pregnant with their sixth child at the time of the transplant and still encouraged him to become my donor! – and his beautiful children; he attended my stepson’s wedding and was given the honor of reciting the final bracha under the chuppah. I am awed by the self-sacrifice that he and his family perfomed so willingly.
After the transplant and recuperation period, I returned to work and contacted Renewal with the intention of arranging a seudah to thank them and my donor for the gift of life they’d given me. The celebration took place at Renewal headquarters in Brooklyn, attended by my donor (his wife was unable to be present at as she’d just given birth), Rabbi Lerner, two of my sons, some of my close friends and business partners, and the Renewal staff. It was an emotional, tearful, yet joyful event. During the festivities, I asked the donor why he had volunteered to give me his kidney; he responded by giving an impassioned speech thanking me for allowing him to do such a great mitzvah, an action that speaks volumes about his truly righteous character.
I am now fully recovered and leading a life bursting with simcha. I am once again immersed in the career that I’ve built for over half a century; I am able to enjoy my three sons, three stepsons, six daughters-in-law, and eight grandchildren (plus one on the way). If not for the support of my incredible wife, Esther, throughout the entire process of dialysis, surgery, and recovery, the altruism of a young father and his wife from Monsey, and the dedication of Renewal, I would be slated for the less attractive departure from dialysis. All of the credit for my renewed health goes to Renewal, to my donor, and to everyone who supported us through the process.
Renewal operates on two fronts: funding and finding (of eligible donors). It’s not a complicated formula, but it’s entirely dependent on the willingness of people to give, from their wallets or their bodies. My relationship with Renewal will never end, just as their mission is far from complete. As a recipient, I want nothing more than to help people who are in the same situation as I was; it’s all about the next transplant and all the transplants that will come after it, guided by this incredible organization.