The Human Spirit: A kidney just like mom’s

For some people, 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.

Organ donation recipient 370 (photo credit: Courtesy Schneider Medical Center)
Organ donation recipient 370
(photo credit: Courtesy Schneider Medical Center)
You decide to give a kidney to a stranger – not the average person’s decision.
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 his.
“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 suits.
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.
Still, surgery was surgery, with the possibility of bleeding and infection.
Ge r 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 mitzva.
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 survived.
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 up.
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 that.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.