David Salomon is in a race to find someone with blood type O willing to give him a kidney.
Salomon, 68, a Cranford resident, has end-stage renal disease, something he’s been battling for four years, which means his kidneys are functioning at about 10 percent of their normal level. Though he is almost non-symptomatic, he is facing a life on dialysis if a suitable match isn’t found.
The problem is finding the right person. Both of Salomon’s parents, immigrants from Germany, had kidney disease. The form David has, FSGS, is believed to be genetic, which means his brother and also his son and daughter are ruled out as donors. His wife, Gail, wanted to give one of her kidneys, but she has blood type A.
The donor-match procedure is complex, weighing compatibility and medical urgency with various other factors, including whether recipients’ family members have volunteered to be donors for others; in fact, David missed out on an open slot recently because a possible pairing for Gail fell through.
To promote David’s chances, the family is working with Renewal, a Brooklyn-based, Orthodox Jewish nonprofit that assists people with various forms of kidney disease. Its primary focus is matching those in need of a transplant with suitable donors.
The group, founded in 2006, offers its services at no charge; it is funded entirely by Jewish donors — mostly Orthodox. Almost all the recipients are Jewish, too, although not necessarily Orthodox.
While support is provided to patients and their families through all stages of the transplant process, special attention is given to the donors’ needs, to make the experience as easy as possible. All medical costs for evaluation and surgery are covered by the recipient’s insurance, and other costs, such as travel expenses and lodging, can also be covered by Renewal.
According to the Forward, the average wait time for a donor kidney is four-and-a-half years in New Jersey; Renewal aims to find a matching donor in no more than six months. It facilitated as many as 17 percent of the live kidney donations to strangers in the United States in 2014 — that is, 38 out of 218. They achieved that from this tiny portion of the population, and in record time.
Renewal offers to put people who are considering donating a kidney in touch with others who have done so and can describe their experiences. Previous donors often serve as volunteers, driving donors to the hospital, supporting them through the screening process, and visiting with them after the operation.
West Orange resident Ilene Strauss, 61, donated a kidney this past December. She was back at her teaching job in the Bronx within two weeks.
Strauss told NJJN that if she was inspired before “to cut into my perfectly healthy body, take out a perfectly healthy organ, and give it to some unknown person,” she was even more pleased by the decision after the fact.
“Oh my gosh, I am so glad I did it,” she said. “Why should someone else have to suffer when you can help them so easily? The procedure is probably less risky than flying or going in a car.”
She described Renewal as “without a doubt, one of the great organizations of am Yisrael in our time, allowing small, little people like me to do a mitzva that far exceeds my stature in the community.”
Gail told NJJN that before her husband was diagnosed he was already familiar with the devastation of kidney failure.
“He took care of his parents as their disease progressed, to where they both went on dialysis for varying lengths of time, until their deaths,” she said.
The couple belongs to Temple Beth-El Mekor Chayim, a Conservative congregation in Cranford, which they joined in 1979. David, ways he has supported the synagogue.
David has been approved for kidney transplantation at Saint Barnabas Medical Center in Livingston, at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, and Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. He has just returned from a trip to Florida, where he traveled to undergo the approval process at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami.
Gail likened the search effort to being an investment banker. “You don’t know which [investment] will work out,” she said.
The family is asking people to spread the word. She said, “You never know whether there is someone who will respond to our urgent need.”