Cityfront: A new lease on life

This week marked a double celebration for Harvey Brown - a year since his aliya and 30 years since the kidney transplant that gave him another chance.

harvey brown 248.88 (photo credit: Michael Green)
harvey brown 248.88
(photo credit: Michael Green)
Spending the bulk of the 1970s attached to a dialysis machine in London, Harvey Brown chose only one option - to take each day as it came. The husband, father and dentist found his life overturned at the age of 32 when he was diagnosed with rapid kidney failure that left him without any kidney function - and in urgent need of treatment. Back then he had no way of knowing that he would be able to live a normal life once again and, three decades later, fulfill his dream of moving to Israel. But long gone are the days on dialysis when Brown "really couldn't think ahead." On January 15, the Brown family, now living in Jerusalem, marked the 30th anniversary since Harvey's life-changing kidney transplant at a celebration at the Ramban Synagogue. The occasion marks a double mazal tov, coming one year since Harvey and his wife moved to Israel, reuniting them with some of their children and grandchildren, as well as his two brothers, one of whom donated the life-saving kidney in 1979. Brown's wife, Barbara, recalls that just after the transplant operation, one of their two daughters, then aged nine, said to their father, "Oh, Daddy, you've gone pink!" Explains Barbara, "She could not remember him being well." Harvey explains that two of the side effects of dialysis are anemia and low blood pressure, which left him lacking the strength of a man in his early 30s, not to mention taking the color out of his cheeks. "I used to be very tired and complained that old men would overtake me when walking along the street," remembers the 68-year-old, relaxing in the spacious living room of their apartment near Emek Refaim. After receiving treatment at London's Royal Free Hospital, which was pioneering dialysis at the time, Harvey was discharged and went back to live with his wife and three children, then aged eight, six and two. "I went home in August 1972 with this wonderful [dialysis] machine and a specially prepared room," says Harvey, who tried his best to live a normal life between the hundreds of hours spent hooked up to the machine which, in lieu of his kidneys, would clean waste products from his blood to prevent them from accumulating to toxic levels. Harvey went back to work later that year, continuing his dental practice from the family home in the north London suburb of Edgware, while trying to maintain a normal life between the bouts of dialysis he had to undergo five times every two weeks. This schedule meant that the family couldn't go away from home for more than three days. But they would sometimes take vacations with a portable dialysis machine or even travel abroad to Israel, which would include a mandatory stay at the Sharon Hospital. "We would go on holiday with the children like any other couple, but not like other couples," he says. Harvey even received a heter (permission) from his rabbi to answer the telephone on Shabbat in case the hospital called to say they had found an organ donor. But the phone never rang. And so the dialysis continued for the next seven years until his brother Tony came forward in 1979, just months before Tony was due to make aliya. "He had some tests done, and the doctors found that he was a very good match; the kidney could only have been better if he were [an identical] twin," says Barbara. Harvey's new kidney enabled him to return to living a normal life, which included being a mohel and serving for a while as chairman of the Edgware Adath Yisrael Synagogue. But after 44 years of running his dental practice, he finally hung up his drill last year to retire to Israel with his wife. "We thought about making aliya when we were first married, but Israel was not an easy place to live in 1963. Nine years later, Harvey suffered kidney failure and afterwards the kids were settling into school and we didn't want to uproot them," recounts Barbara. The couple say that moving to Israel has "totally changed" their lives. "We've now become grandparents!" beams Harvey. "It's hard being a far-away grandparent; you don't have the relationship where you can just pop in and see the children." "When they are very young, they don't know you. If they are six months old and they see you a few months later, they don't recognize you," adds his wife. On the coffee table of the Browns' apartment sits a copy of the Oxford Handbook of Emergency Medicine alongside a Hebrew-English dictionary that the couple use to help with their ulpan homework. The only reason they have to consult medical texts these days is to remind them of their eldest son, Jeremy, who co-authored the book from his home in the United States. "I hope for the future that all our children will live here," says Harvey. Although his two daughters made aliya more than 10 years ago - now living in Beit Shemesh and Modi'in - Jeremy lives near Washington DC and their youngest, Alex, is in the midst of studying medicine at Cambridge University, where he also chairs the Jewish Student Society. Neither son is a stranger to the Holy Land. However, Jeremy left Israel for the US to specialize in emergency medicine, and Alex spent a year at yeshiva in the German Colony. "Alex was instrumental in our coming to live in this area," says Barbara. "He told us that we would fit in well in the community. We are very lucky. We've met old friends here and made new ones as well. It's very good being retired. We're still very busy!"