On a day devoted to themes of life and death, Warren resident Elliott Kominsky helped raise awareness of the institutions that gave him a new heart.
The 62-year-old Kominsky was one of 622 people in New Jersey who received a life-saving transplant in 2011; another 5,000 are on the waiting list for such surgery, including 68 in need of a heart.
On Yom Kippur, Kominsky set up an information table at Congregation B’nai Israel, the Conservative temple in Basking Ridge, to share literature about the NJ Sharing Network and encourage people to sign up as donors.
Since receiving his transplant, Kominsky and his wife, Carol, have undertaken to give as much financial support as they can to the network, which facilitates donations and transplants and supports the families involved, and to Newark Beth Israel Medical Center, where he had his operation.
The religious leader of B’nai Israel, Rabbi John Schechter, supported Kominsky’s effort at the temple. He said that the High Holy Days are times for congregants to reflect on their lives and those who have helped them along the way.
“Each year at the High Holy Days, Jews around the world recite Unetaneh Tokef, a prayer that tells of how our own repentance, prayers, and acts of human caring can mitigate the harshness of existence,” Schechter said. “When we act toward others with kindness, thoughtfulness, and a measure of planning for the future, we can elevate survival and enable others to be most fully human despite whatever medical needs they have.”
Though his health isn’t perfect, Kominsky is well enough that this month he and Carol are going to Israel, the first time for both. “We are so excited,” she said.
Kominsky suffered a series of blockages starting in 1995. His heart disease came as a shock; his father, now in his 90s, is still fit and working, and he hadn’t been aware of any family history of the illness. “I wasn’t really feeling sick but I must have been in denial,” he said. He had to stop the long-distance running he loved and eventually had to give up his work as an accountant.
He underwent surgery in January 2011. “The doctors said he had maybe another month or two to go,” Carol said. “That’s why they gave him a heart when they did.” Within a day, she could see the difference. “His cheeks were pink; it was amazing,” she said.
Their children, now 22 and 19, grew up with a father who was an invalid, her husband said. “Now, they have a father who can do anything.”
Much as he would like to thank the donor’s family members, direct contact isn’t allowed until they agree to it. But right after the operation, Kominsky wrote a letter promising to treat their great gift as well as he possibly can. He has followed doctors’ orders, exercises daily, and sticks religiously to a heart-healthy vegetarian diet. “I get up every day and I think about this family and the generosity of their donation,” he said.
It hasn’t all been smooth sailing. “I have the heart of a 20-year-old, in the body of a 62-year-old,” Kominsky said. He can’t run, but he does work out on an elliptical machine. The medications he has to take brought on diabetes, and he has tremors and some short-term memory loss, possibly as a result of the surgery. But, he said, he feels good, and he wants others to have this second chance at life.