You decide to give a kidney to a stranger – not the average person’s
Donors have extra measures of goodness and guts.
The process is challenging. You can’t be overweight. You have to undergo tedious
tests. You have to convince a committee that you’re emotionally stable. And then
there’s the surgery, and the fear of living with only one kidney. Still, for
some of these extraordinary persons, the satisfaction of saving a life is so
great that, having given up a kidney, they spend their time encouraging others
to do the same. But what if your own son, a young father, decides to be one of
your volunteers? Would you encourage him to endanger himself? Such was the
recent dilemma of J e r u s a l emi t e Ma rc i R a p p . A t 5 7 , she’d given
away her own kidney.
Now her son Gershon, 24, wanted to give away
“Although I knew the risks were relatively small – after all, I’d
gone through it myself – I was worried,” says Marci. “I wasn’t sure if he really
knew what he was getting into. I’m not sure I did, either – only that I wanted
to do it because I knew it was a mitzva.”
Gershon says he’d been
considering a donation even before his mom. “I’d actually thought of it when I
was 19 and a yeshiva student,” he says. “When I first thought of it, I was
studying in Israel and heard about someone in America who needed a kidney. The
logistics defeated me. But the idea stayed with me: thinking of people on
dialysis whose lives would be saved with a kidney. There are more than 700 men
and women waiting for a transplant in Israel. The alternative to transplant is
dialysis, which doesn’t fulfill all the functions of the kidney, such as the
production of hormones. Many patients – some estimates say 20 percent – die
while waiting for a kidney.”
When he told his mother his plans, she was
proud but still concerned. Her own donation in 2011 had gone smoothly. She had
given her kidney to a younger woman with severe kidney disease. “It felt like
giving birth to give someone life,” says Marci, a mother of four who runs a
successful business creating and marketing the Mar-Sea brand of modest bathing
She had, of course, read the oftenquoted long-term study published
in the 2009 New England Journal of Medicine, which says that kidney donors have
normal life spans and actually have fewer kidney problems than the general
population because of the careful screening of potential donors.
surgery was surgery, with the possibility of bleeding and infection.
s h o n wa s ma r r i e d a n d h a d a young child.
She also worried
that Gershon, a website designer, would lose his capacity to earn a living
during the recovery, and she knew he needed the money. “The Israeli government
compensates you for time lost during the actual donation and recuperation
period, but you lose time from work and family before surgery and during the
testing period as well,” she says.
But Gershon was encouraged by his
mother’s example of giving and her good recovery. “I saw that my mother came
through the surgery easily, and I’m younger and fitter,” he says. “If she could
do it, why couldn’t I?” ALTHOUGH HIS wife, Sara, was concerned about having sole
responsibility during his recovery, she was supportive of him doing this
Spousal approval and support is required for donors. “She, too,
had seen my mother’s rapid recovery, and the thought of us being able to save
another life is very powerful,” says Gershon. And it was Sara who suggested that
her husband was making a gesture to pay back God for the close calls he’d
At age nine, growing up in Canada, he was hit by a car. When he
was 17, while volunteering as a counselor in a Beit She’an summer camp during
the Second Lebanon War, he and his campers came under Katyusha rocket fire. The
rockets fell in a circle around them. No one was hurt.
And then came the
joyous day of July 23, 2008, when his parents were joining him and his two
brothers by making aliya. Serving in the IDF’s Nahal Haredi, Gershon got
permission to leave his unit to surprise them in Jerusalem. He was on a No. 13
bus in the city when a bulldozer crashed into it. At first he thought it was an
accident, but soon realized it was a terror attack. He jumped off the bus and
cocked his gun to shoot the terrorist.
A border policeman hit first.
Gershon was slightly wounded. He woke his newly arrived parents to tell them
their son had been in a terror attack on their first day in Israel. Like all
altruistic kidney donors, he had to undergo a medical work-up: blood pressure
checks, lab exams, Xrays and an EKG. In addition to kidney function, he had to
be tested for liver function, lung disease and past exposure to viral illness.
He breezed through it all, as well as the grilling to weed out donors with
psychological problems or ulterior motives. He was called in January. He and the
recipient, about whom he won’t give details, arrived at Petah Tikva’s R a b i n
Me d i c a l Ce n t e r - B e i l i n s o n Campus. The surgeon – not the same
as his mom’s – made a series of small slits in his abdomen to insert
laparoscopic instruments with a miniature camera. Once the kidney dissection was
complete, a kidney was lifted out through a larger slit. Everything was stitched
A few days after surgery, he was feeling “pretty good, a little tired
and achy, but not more.”
He doesn’t call his mother and compare
post-operational symptoms. “My mother felt sick and nauseous after her surgery,
but I was able to get up and walk around right away,” he says. “For someone
young and healthy, it’s not a hard operation.”
His only frustration is an
inability to pick up 11-month-old daughter Ayelet until he’s fully healed.
Grandma Marci, full of pride and gratitude, is happy to help with
The author is a Jerusalem writer who focusses on the wondrous stories of modern Israel. She serves as the Israel director for public relations for Hadassah, the Women's Zionist Organization of American. The views in this column are her own.