The Human Spirit: A kidney just like mom's
Jan. 31, 2013
Sofer , THE JERUSALEM POST
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.
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 Jerusalemite Marci Rapp. A t 57 , 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.
Gershon was married and had 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
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
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
Rabin Medical Center - Beilinson 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
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."
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.