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"Donating a Kidney is Like Giving Birth"

Chayim Ehrenfeld, a Hidabrut employee, donated a kidney as part of the Matnat Chaim organization. In a special interview, he talks about his decision to donate and the extraordinary experience of providing life and health to a Jew in need.

| 16.05.16 | 11:57
Donating a Kidney is Like Giving Birth
A few years ago, Chayim Ehrenfeld (26) came across an article about the 99th donor of the Matnat Chaim (Gift of Life) organization. The organization, headed by Rabbi Yeshayahu Heber, connects between patients in need of a kidney transplant and people willing to donate. The 99th donor was not just a random name for him – the donor’s name was Lior Frishman, a person who Ehrenfeld immediately remembered as being his classmate in Yeshiva. "It did something to me to know that someone I know has donated a kidney," he says. "The thought crossed my mind that maybe I should donate a kidney some day. But like many thoughts that come and go, I forgot about it pretty quickly."
 
Ehrenfeld works for Hidabrut as a video editor of lectures in the Hidabrut English network. Six months ago, he received the chance to edit the lecture of the American Rebbetzin, Lori Palatnik, where she had spoken about her kidney donation. "When I heard the vivid description of the experience of her contribution, the idea to donate a kidney was aroused in me again. That day, I talked to my wife about it. I didn’t really intend to act upon it just yet, but my wife actually responded very seriously and was very positive about the matter. So I stopped and began to think very carefully about whether or not I really want to do it."
 
Ehrenfeld entered the Matnat Chaim website and began to read about the donation process. He learned that donating a kidney is a great mitzvah and a perfectly safe medical procedure that allows donors to recover quickly and return to normal life without feeling any different. Miraculously, the human body can function with one kidney the same way it functions with two. "I called Matnat Chaim, asked questions, and really came to the conclusion that there is nothing stopping me from proceeding with the donation process."
 
The first phase involved some simple blood and urine tests ordered by the family physician. In the second phase, Ehrenfeld was added to the Rabin Medical Center donor list. "At first, I was matched with someone who needed a kidney, but at a later point during the testing process we found out we were not a match. I was later requested to donate to someone who they later found a more suitable donor for. Eventually I donated to the third person that I was matched with.”
 
Proper matching of potential transplant recipients is important, as it is at this stage that donors are required to go through a more expensive testing process, while the person in need of the transplant is covering the costs. But even this stage may prove the two to be incompatible. The determining test is the HLA-B27 blood test. This test determines whether the recipient’s blood is compatible with that of his potential donor - that is to say, that there are no mismatching antibodies in the two blood types.
 
"Every time I was informed about the HLA-B27 blood test I knew there was a potential recipient," said Ehrenfeld. "By the third time, the process continued without any sudden disruptions. The date of the surgery was never changed or cancelled."
 
The transplant process began on the March 21st - a few days before Purim. "They told me I could have the transplant done either before Purim or after Pesach. I preferred before Purim so that by Pesach time the recipient will G-d willing be feeling better and be released from dialysis." This is a tangible manifestation of the verse,  "From bondage to freedom."
 
The recipient, Nissim Shoval, had undergone a kidney transplant 24 years earlier. At that time, his mother donated her kidney which held out for 23 years. When that kidney had stopped functioning, Regine his wife had given him her kidney but due to a rare complication, the operation did not succeed and Nissim needed another transplant. This is where Chayim Ehrenfeld entered the picture.
 
“I had met Nissim only a day before the surgery. I had preferred not to meet him beforehand as the compatibility can be declined at any stage of the testing process." At first, he recounts, Nissim's wife was concerned to hear that the donor who was found for her husband was so young - only 26 years old. “She had to be reassured that even though I was young, my decision to donate was entirely voluntary and that no one had forced me to do it," he laughs.
 
Ehrenfeld says that he does not have any recollection of the surgery. “I must have fallen asleep really quickly. I don’t even remember the anesthesiologist asking me to count to ten like they usually do.” After three or four hours, the surgery was completed and he had found himself in the recovery room where his wife Noa had been waiting for him. “She could not be with me during the surgery itself,” he explains, “it was early morning and she had to take the girls to daycare.”

When he had woken up at three thirty in the afternoon, he was still disoriented. He spent that day lying down and taking painkillers. “On the second day, on the other hand, they encourage you to get up and start walking. I remember that day as being especially painful because of the need to get up and walk around. Like after a C-Section”, he laughs. “Rabbi Heber always says that donating a kidney is like first giving birth and then being pregnant…”
 
On the Fast of Esther, Chayim had already been given permission to leave the hospital - but not before he had met Nissim, his wife and his daughters. “On the day of the surgery, they had come to visit me”, he recounts. The recovery was quick and he was able to return to work after two weeks' time.
How were you able to afford being absent from work for two weeks?
 
"A kidney donor who has accrued sick days can use them, of course, but the Ministry of Health also gives the equivalent of 40 days of reserve duty for anyone who donates a kidney. You certainly can’t lose money from doing this.”
 
Meanwhile, the transplant is successful, and Nissim, as Chayim had hoped, celebrated Pesach healthfully and free from dialysis. The contact between the two families was of course, maintained. "For us it's like we have a new aunt and uncle, and for them we’re like their new son and daughter. We visit them and talk on the phone. They are not religious, but they do have a connection and awareness of tradition. When we came to visit, for example, they knew to serve only fruits and store-bought cakes with a hechsher. It definitely makes the relationship easier."
 
How did the community react when they learned of your plan to donate a kidney?
 
"At first, only my wife knew. Only when they set a date for the surgery, we announced the news to the family. Thank G-d, all the reactions were encouraging. People have heard of the Matnat Chaim organization and definitely recognize the importance of kidney donorship. I really hope that I’ve inspired others to donate.”
 
One person who is already inspired by him to donate is his wife, Noa, who has decided to donate her kidney: “She will donate once she is finished having children - even though it is possible to have children with only one kidney.”
 
How can you sum up the motive that has led you on this special journey?
 
"I think we all have a desire to do something big and meaningful on the level of saving lives. When you hear the personal experience of someone who had gone through it, the feelings are very strong. When we examine the matter closely we realize how big the reward is in relation to that which is required of you. Yes, this does involve surgery and a recovery period - but that's all - a few days of discomfort and you go on with your life as usual. On the other hand, the recipient is now living a much better, and maybe even longer life G-d Willing - thanks to you."