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A Divine Gift That Keeps on Giving

A Divine Gift That Keeps on Giving

Two people's hands cradling a heart

My encounter with Karen Onesti was just as unexpected as that of our forefather, young Joseph, who, wandering in a field, suddenly meets a “man” (an angel?), who just happens to know exactly where his brothers are shepherding that day.

The “field” in which I encountered my own angel-person was the parking lot of the local community center where Karen and I had just attended a monthly interfaith clergy meeting. As we stood near our cars, I briefed her about my worsening kidney disease and imminent need for dialysis, sharing that I recently had been listed for transplant on the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) registry, and that one-by-one, family members and friends were being rejected as potential living donors.

The next six words changed the course of my entire life: “I’ll give you one of mine!”

Who was this person who was willing to go through the tests and sacrifices on my behalf? Besides the fact that our congregations had participated with others in an interfaith Thanksgiving eve service, I knew little about Karen, and certainly didn’t know anything about her personally.

With those words, she set us off down a path to becoming “joined at the kidney” and referring to each other as “Kid Sister” and “Kid Brother,” as well as sharing 15 minutes of fame as a donor/recipient pair.

The year that followed had many twists and turns as we navigated the arduous path toward donating and receiving an organ. Being accepted for transplant was one thing, but being approved for surgery was another, and there were no guarantees – for Karen or for me. I had to begin dialysis while still serving my congregation full-time – and staying as fit as possible in preparation for surgery. In the meantime, my sister-in-law was narrowly rejected as a donor and Karen, after her first round of testing, was “postponed” as a donor. After a hysterectomy, she returned for a second round of testing and, finally, in mid-December of 2006, we both were cleared for surgery.

Then the media stepped in.

A feature story about us that recently had been updated and was slated to run on the following Sunday was picked up by the wire services and, in turn, by thousands of newspapers and other broadcast outlets. We had gone viral! A media frenzy followed, including a pre-transplant appearance on “Good Morning America.”

Several weeks later, Karen donated a kidney to me and today, 10 years later, that kidney – pu pu pu – is functioning perfectly. Indeed, if there was a psalm praising our Creator for the success of a living kidney donation, I’d sing it every morning right after the traditional prayer of gratitude, Modeh Ani.

Was our encounter in the parking lot bashert (intended, meant to be)?

I don’t know.

I do know, however, that every one of us can be an “angel” when it comes to our organs and tissues. I advocate for and pray that people will step up to become living kidney donors, and I encourage those who are eligible to take other positive steps to perform the mitzvah of pikuach nefesh (preserving a human life), helping more and more people in need receive an amazing gift:

  1. Sign up to donate healthy organs and tissues in the event of a tragic, sudden death. It’s equally important to inform next-of-kin of your wish to be an organ donor.
  1. Join the Gift of Life registry.
  1. Donate blood and/or platelets as often as possible.

As more severe cost-cutting measures are proposed and implemented in this country’s healthcare arena, helping to save someone from the need for dialysis or other costly and sometimes painful treatments not only makes monetary sense, but also slows the pace at which people die while waiting for transplants or other cures.

Today, even as I detail my “pre-existing condition” on medical and insurance forms, I’m grateful beyond words to do so with a healthy, functioning kidney!

Rabbi Andrew Bossov enjoys a dual career as a musician and rabbi in Chicago, his hometown. He previously served as a spiritual leader in Reform congregations in Baltimore, MD; Sarasota, FL; and Mt. Laurel, NJ. He also directed a program for seniors at Westchester Jewish Community Services in Mt. Vernon, NY.

Rabbi Andrew Bossov
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