Community Update 10: Help Federation Save a Life

By Ralph Grunewald, Executive Director

At this time of year – when Jews are about to enter the Days of Awe (in Hebrew, Yamim Noraim) – we engage in introspection about the year gone by, we consider our sins and misdeeds of the prior year, we ask for repentance, and we commit to acting better next year.

With this in mind, and as we begin these High Holy Days of the year 5780, please consider this statement, sent by a member of our community:

The mitzvah of saving a life, Pikuach Nefesh, takes precedence over nearly every Jewish ritual and civil law; it is considered one of Judaism's highest values.  No religious barriers to organ donation exist if the organs are donated in accordance with Jewish religious regulations.  When saving a human life is possible, the life must be saved.  Jewish tradition looks with great favor on those who facilitate life-saving organ and tissue donation.

The Jewish Federation of Howard County performs many important functions and provides vital and unique programs and services for our community.  But there is literally nothing more important than saving a life. In the spirit of the Yamim Noraim, when we focus our attention on how we act as human beings and the importance of mitzvot (good deeds), I hope we can identify a donor to save the life of one of our community members, Larry Greenfield, who is in urgent need of a kidney.  While Larry is not the only community member who needs our help, I feel the message Larry sent me recently is so powerful that I wanted the entire community to read it.  It appears below.

Larry and his wife, Barbara, have hosted an information table about organ transplants at our past Purim Palooza events that draw more than 1,000 attendees.  As a result, earlier this year, at least one possible donor was identified, but in the end, the match was not compatible with Larry’s needs.  Please read Larry’s special message and perhaps you or someone you know can help save his life, whether a kidney during your lifetime, or another organ after your passing. 

Meanwhile, on behalf of the Board of Directors and staff of the JFHC, I wish you and your loved ones a shana tova u’metuka – a good and sweet year.

AN APPEAL TO HOWARD COUNTY'S JEWISH COMMUNITY

THE GIFT OF LIFE

By Larry Greenfeld

When my doctor told me I had end-stage kidney disease, I immediately began thinking about the things in life that are most important: family, especially new generations; friends; goals and dreams; living the healthiest life possible; making a difference; controlling one's destiny to the greatest extent possible; the impact of my illness on my spouse, already the caretaker for an aging parent. 

I have been on kidney dialysis for more than four years.  My kidneys now function at 5% of capacity.  Dialysis is both lifesaving and life-altering.  At 72, I spend 12 hours per week at a hemodialysis center.  Dialysis cleans my blood of wastes and impurities, and, to the best extent the technology allows, it balances and regulates my body's use of essential chemicals and minerals such as sodium, phosphorous, and potassium.

Keep in mind that kidneys work 24/7 to keep your body on track while dialysis only works during the hours it is administered.  Though hours spent on dialysis are miraculous, they are no match for healthy kidneys or even kidneys at lower stages of the disease.  Still, I am grateful for an alternative that those needing heart, liver, lung and other transplants do not have. 

End-stage organ disease is not as familiar to most people as cancer or heart disease.  Yet there are approximately 114,000 people in the US awaiting an organ transplant (a number that increases when people waiting for multiple organs are added).  Approximately 82% of those await a kidney; 12% await a liver, and 3% await a heart.  Also, 1% need a kidney and a pancreas; 1% need a lung; and 1% wait for intestines; heart and lung, corneas, and tissue.

Some of these critical needs can only be met by the mitzvah of a deceased donor or a deceased donor's loved ones arranging this precious gift at life's most difficult time.  Others can be met through the miracle of living donors, only possible in the case of some organs.  Yet, as the number of individuals who need organ transplants is increasing, the number of living and deceased donors is at a plateau.

These statistics highlight the problem in Maryland, during 2018 alone: 3,375 people were on transplant waiting lists; 379 transplants were performed of which 208 were from deceased donors and 171 from living donors. 

Organ donation is the ultimate gift of life.  For certain organs, a deceased donor is the only possible donor.  In Maryland, you may specify that you wish to be a deceased donor upon passing, and you may specify what you are willing to donate.  Indeed, deceased donors can provide life to as many as eight people.  Registration can be done through the driver's license application or renewal process or directly through Donate Life Maryland, the organization that manages the deceased donor registry. 

Living donation involves the transplant of a healthy person's organ to a person with end-stage organ disease.  For organs where this potential exists, the best possible outcome for a recipient is a living donor.  Living donation most commonly involves a kidney, but it also can involve a portion of the liver or lungs.  You may donate to a loved one, friend, colleague, or stranger. 

In the case of kidney disease, 2,000 people a year die waiting for a kidney transplant.  In fact, the importance of living and deceased donors is highlighted by this fact: receiving a kidney from the very highest risk deceased donor results in a far better outcome than dialysis only.  You may wonder why family members are not always the most obvious donors.  There are many important reasons, including the likelihood that they have the same condition, or they are pre-disposed to the same condition, or they have another condition that excludes them as a donor.

All major American religions support organ donation and transplantation.  This is especially true of Judaism with its fundamental belief stated in the Mishna Sanhedrin: "Whoever saves one life, it is as if he saved the world."  And it is important to note that, statistically, saving a life puts you at no greater risk for your own life or longevity.

My wife Barbara and I are praying that our future lies in the hands of the community.  It is our hope that that through living or deceased donation, I will be blessed with the gift of life.

Individuals, congregations, or organizations, who would like more information, in general, or to help Larry, specifically, can contact: 

Larry or Barbara Greenfeld at bgreenfeld2@gmail.com or 443-545-5791; or the University of Maryland Transplant Center (Emily Vaughn, Transplant Coordinator, at 410-328-0021).  Referral for other information can also be provided.

Barbara and I wish all members of Howard County's Jewish community, l’shana tova!