“One who saves one life, it is as if one has saved the entire world.”
(Talmud Sanhedrin 4:5)
I remember in the mid-1970s going with my parents to our local Jewish Community Center for a health screening regarding Tay Sachs Disease (a fatal genetic disorder, most commonly occurring in children, that results in progressive destruction of the nervous system). It was the first time I recall ever having a discussion with my parents about health-related issues.
The goal of the screening was to increase awareness in the Jewish community about the disease (Ashkenazi Jews have a higher than average incidence of Tay Sachs and other lipid storage diseases. In the United States, about 1 in 30 Ashkenazi Jews is a recessive carrier). Like Tay Sachs, Polycystic Kidney Disease (PKD) is a genetic disease that affects the Jewish community in large numbers. While there are many conditions that can lead to kidney failure, this is one we see often in our community.
I was recently approached to write on a difficult topic and to raise awareness – how you can help someone who may need a transplant . We have members of our own Jewish community who require a kidney transplant, and I am sure there are others who may need something else (bone marrow, liver, etc.). Those involved asked me to “put the call out” for help – you can literally be a life saver.
Organ donation can be a life-saving procedure, which is why many Jewish authorities from across the denominational spectrum believe it to be a religious duty. Jewish tradition considers saving human life — pikuach nefesh in Hebrew — to be among the highest ethical obligations. You can learn more about what Judaism says about organ donation here.
The question to all of us is – are you willing to be an organ donor?
When asked this question at the department of motor vehicles, for every five people who say yes to this question, ten say no. Perhaps if we more fully understood the need, we may be more likely to be a donor? Allow me to introduce you to some people in our community who are in need now of living kidney donations:
Frank (not using his real name) had his first surgery when he was 12 years old. He made it out of the hospital just in time for his bar mitzvah. Now, 38 years later, he wonders whether he will live to see his son graduate high school and his daughter college.
Frank has PKD and needs a kidney transplant. It can be very challenging to find a match. Even more so for Frank as he has the least common blood type, O. While Frank’s donor must have type O blood (positive or negative), anyone interested, regardless of blood type, should reach out. OHSU (Frank’s hospital) can perform paired donations where a living kidney donor who is incompatible with the recipient exchanges kidneys with another donor/recipient pair.
Frank is not alone. A longstanding Jewish communal professional and community leader is in need of a new kidney (blood type A).
And there are probably others.
It is important to point out that not all living kidney donors are family members. I recently learned that a woman in our community is leaving soon to donate her kidney to a stranger on October 3. She was inspired by an ELI Talk by Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz (highly recommend you watch) from Arizona. The recipient is a young Jewish mother with a very young child. We all wish this woman and her recipient good health.
And you can read an article about Oregon State Representative Tiffiny Mitchell who just shared she will be donating one of her kidneys to a stranger in Pennsylvania.
Many of you will recall when Cantor David Rosenberg (z”l), required a kidney transplant, his dear friend Marshal Spector stepped forward (here is Oregonian article). A few months ago, on the 12 th anniversary of the transplant (May 21, 2007), Marshal would write:
Unfortunately, lives are sometimes lost and stories do not always end happily. The mother of one of my colleagues needed a kidney, he was not a match, no other donors were identified, and she lost her life waiting for a donor. In my case, my friend lived for seven and a half years after our surgery before succumbing to cancer.
So, I now have one kidney. What did I give up? Advil and whitewater kayaking. I see a nephrologist twice a year to be sure my insides are functioning properly and there are no warning signs. I write this to encourage people to consider joining this club. Close to 100,000 people nationwide and 732 people in Oregon are waiting for a kidney.
Basic information about kidney donations:
If you think you may be interested in helping members of our community in need of a transplant or if you would like to learn more about living kidney donation, please call 971-208-5599 or email kidneyconnectionpdx@ gmail.com.
YOU CAN TRULY SAVE A LIFE!