After Many Dead Ends, One Stop Leads to a New Kidney

By Elana Saperstein

The Saperstein Family (left to right): Elana with her mother, Bella and her father, Louis before his transplant surgery

I had many doors close in my face when trying to find a match for my dad. After he selflessly slaved away his whole life to give me the experiences that I have had, I hated to watch him suffer. He was a generous and kind person, always giving of himself to all his family and friends, and he deserved a new kidney and lease on life.

Seeing my parents' sadness when my dad was hooked up to a machine to undergo peritoneal dialysis every night was crushing. Dr. Jonathan Winston of Mount Sinai Hospital in New York had been treating my dad for years, a blessing to us because I believe his optimism helped my dad fight. Dr. Winston was a voice of reason, always insisting that this disease would not stop my dad. His personal friendship and support was just as valuable to my dad's health as his medical treatments.

I feel like I've taken a lot of wrong turns in my life, but stopping at the Mitzvah Tank (a mobile Jewish education and outreach center) in Midtown Manhattan one summer day was not one of them. When I stopped to give a donation, I met Rabbi Baumgarten of Chabad Lubavitch. We started talking about my father's plight and he shared that through his circles, he had heard about a girl from California who wanted to donate a kidney but wasn't a match with her initial recipient. In came Chava'le Mishulovin -- someone who would change our lives forever. The progression to surgery was rapid and I thank Dr. Sander Florman, Head of Transplant at Mount Sinai for taking on the surgery and for his precision. I want to also thank Dr. Vinay Nair of the Nephrology Department at Mount Sinai for helping to stabilize my dad's complications after the surgery. We met Chava right before the transplant took place and it was a beautiful blending and creation of extended family.

Chava describes a meeting held in Heaven many years ago: Two souls are summoned by G-d. "I have four healthy kidneys here," begins He, "and I will be lending you each two of them at birth." The Almighty pauses and the souls glance at one another. He continues, "Two of these kidneys will shut down at some point and so one of you is going to have to volunteer to forego years of good health. If all goes well, the other one will justly part with one of these healthy kidneys, and kindness will abound in my world." "I'll take the disadvantaged role of being sick and needy." one soul immediately claims. "Okay," shrugs my soul, "I'll be the healthy and gracious giving one." And then we flew down here.

Left to right: Louis Saperstein, recipient and Chava'le Mishulovin, donor

According to Chava, her friends mistakenly admire her "heroic act" because they don't comprehend that returning G-d's kidneys was a moral obligation. Chava says, "As each nurse, coordinator, nephrologist, psychiatrist, doctor, technician, social worker and surgeon met with me, they'd roll up their sleeves, peer at me intently, and ask me the same thing: 'So why did you decide to do this extraordinary act of donating a kidney to a total stranger?' Because it's his, I'd think. But I didn't want them to terminate the kidney donation process on grounds of psychiatric instability, so I'd respond less outlandishly, 'Because I have a kidney that I don't need and somebody else does.' And every time I'd feel a stab of pain for the family that entered this deal in need while I entered with plenitude. They thank me endlessly but they are the true heroes."

Chava continues, "As for me? I bow my head in gratitude to the Sapersteins, my team at Mt. Sinai, the Rabbi who coordinated this match, and most of all to G-d, for gifting me with two healthy functioning kidneys which granted me the incredible double merit of both receiving and donating life."