Unlike many other people with failing kidneys, Dr. Marc Rubman claims to enjoy much of the time he spends on dialysis each week.
“I use my laptop and the Internet to study for my upcoming medical board exams and to watch television,” he told NJJN. “It is one of the very few times in my life when no one can bother me. It is a time I can turn my brain off. I have made my peace with dialysis.”
Rubman, an orthopedic surgeon at Morristown Medical Center, knows, however, that an organ transplant is a healthier alternative to having his blood purified by machine, a procedure he undergoes three times a week for a total of 15 hours.
“Long-term dialysis is not particularly good for people,” he said. “I have been on this round for 16 months, and, as with anything, long exposure to chemicals is not great.”
Rubman’s condition, Polycystic Kidney Disease (PKD), is a genetic disorder that affects some 600,000 Americans and 12.4 million people around the world.
“It is the most common disease you have never heard of,” he said.
The transplant Rubman is hoping for would not be his first. He received a donated kidney in December 2015, but it became infected by a virus and lasted only until the following August. The transplant elevated his antibody levels, sensitizing his immune system and making it more difficult to find a match for a second new kidney.
“I have found it difficult to ask for donors the second time,” he said. “The first time it was unchartered territory, and I was amazed by the turnout — people who came out of the woodwork whom I didn’t really know. It was very life-affirming.”
The first donor was a nurse he had worked with in Morristown who learned of his need from Facebook. Rubman and the donor maintain occasional contact, mainly via the Internet. “Our bond, while not close, will never be broken. That’s for sure,” he said.
Close relationships with family and friends have also made it easier for Rubman to endure his medical struggle. “So many people have my back,” he said. “I cannot imagine going through this alone. As unlucky as I am, I am an extraordinarily lucky person.”
One person lending much time and energy to his search for a new donor is his sister, Leslie Rubman, a Hoboken resident. She is the only one of four siblings who did not inherit the PKD gene from their mother.
It is an inherited disease, but not one that is especially prevalent among Ashkenazi Jews. When the Rubman family learned it was in their gene pool in 1983, “the results hit us like a ton of bricks,” Leslie said.
Their mother, now deceased, received a successful transplant, as did one of their two sisters. A potential donor is going through testing for the other sister, who is now in the preliminary stages of kidney failure.
In the meantime, Marc Rubman continues to work 35 hours a week, seeing patients and performing surgery. As the hunt for a living kidney donor continues, he remains optimistic, marveling at the way another person — probably a stranger — may someday save his life.
“Hospitals used to think it was crazy for someone to want to donate a kidney to a person they didn’t know,” he said. “No, it’s not crazy. It is really kind of a shame that there are people with two functioning kidneys when there are so many other people in the world who just need one.”
Rubman lives in Morristown with his wife, Linda, a lactation consultant at Saint Clare’s Hospital in Denville. They have two children, Alec, who is 20, and Mia, 15.
A member of Temple B’nai Or in Morristown, Rubman said Judaism “is more of my ethnic identity than my religious identity. But I believe in tikkun olam. ‘If you save one life, you save the world.’
“It is not about me, per se. Organ donation is a very Jewish thing.”