My Spare Kidney Provided an Incredible Life Experience

by Shari Kaufman

Each week, thousands of people are inspired by articles. Some learn more about Jewish history. Some are inspired by the depth of Jewish wisdom in leading a more spiritual life. Others ShariKaufmanminfind practical parenting or dating advice.

In my case, an article inspired me to save a life.

My story begins 10 years ago. My husband, Chanan Kaufman, was sending out Aish HaTorah’s Shabbat Shalom Fax to thousands of people each week. Filled with Jewish wisdom, the fax was a very effective way for him to meet new people. So to raise money for his program, the Jerusalem Fellowships, Chanan would send the fax to potential donors and follow up with a phone call.

When my husband called Antoine and asked if he would like to meet, Antoine said sure.

Antoine, married with young children, became a donor and Chanan could count on his annual gift. But he remained a casual friend, someone he only checked in with once or twice a year.

This summer, when Chanan went to visit Antoine and asked how everything was, he received a disturbing response.

“You know that I have the same genetic kidney disease that killed my father? My brother has it, too. I thought in my case it wouldn’t manifest itself for years to come. But it turns out that the disease is progressing at an alarming rate and I need a kidney transplant to stay alive.”

Which brings us to that article I mentioned earlier. About two years ago, I read Lori Palatnik describing her experience as a kidney donor. I found it very inspiring and considered that perhaps I could be brave enough to do the same.

Soon afterward I learned that a woman in my community needed a kidney. I thought this could be a wonderful opportunity. But alas, I was not a match, and so the whole idea got put on the back burner. I returned to day-to-day life, while my husband filed the idea away in the back of his mind.

So when Chanan came home and told me about Antoine’s situation, I said I was willing to be tested. I’ve heard a lot of different stories about the process of testing, and in my case it went quickly and painlessly. We worked with New York Presbyterian (Columbia) Hospital in Manhattan, and they could not have been nicer or more professional. They understood that I had a demanding work schedule and arranged my tests so as not to interfere.

When we got the news of a “match,” Antoine was thrilled and, as he said, “bewildered.” We set a date for the transplant. In 60 days Antoine would shift from facing possible death… to having a new kidney.

When I told people about what I was planning, most were awed. Some thought I was crazy. My kids were supportive and thought it was a great act of selfless giving.

A few weeks before the surgery, I was feeling something that I could not put my finger on. Then I realized that I wanted an emotional connection, to get to know Antoine and his family. I remembered reading in Lori’s article how she spent hours and hours getting to know her recipient… and I wanted to know mine.

So we invited Antoine and his family for a Shabbat dinner – he, his wife and three young children. It was a wonderful evening and I felt much more connected. His wife was lovely, soft-spoken, beautiful inside and out – and most of all, so grateful to me. That gave me added encouragement to help.

Then the week that the surgery was scheduled to take place, the reality hit me: What am I doing? Could I back out? I really wanted to go forward, yet I was terrified. I prayed and prayed.

The surgery itself went off without a hitch. As soon as Antoine received my kidney he felt better. He looked 10 years younger the next day. It was truly amazing.

For me personally, to say it was a special time is an understatement. I was scared, which is normal, but the Almighty held my hand every step of the way, encouraging me and coaxing me at this unique opportunity.

Though I awoke very sore (it is like abdominal surgery), I was basking in the intense afterglow of literally saving a life. I have never felt this kind of joy before. How wonderful that the Almighty gave me a spare kidney, so I could relish this incredible experience.

The connection I’ve had with God these past few months is something to strive for the rest of my life. I had pushed through my fears and anxieties and placed my trust in the Almighty. I gave the gift of life, and got an equally tremendous gift in return.

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