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Altruistic donation ‘an unbelievable mitzvah’ says kidney recipient

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“I marvel at the miracle of modern medicine and unbelievable human kindness,” says advocate Gerald Farber, 73, who has a new lease on life after a kidney transplant last week.

On Tuesday, 16 November, at about 07:00, Farber met the man who has literally saved his life, altruistic donor Rabbi Mark Friedman of Glenhazel, Johannesburg.

Friedman’s journey to become a kidney donor after his father, Aubrey, was saved following his own kidney transplant was featured in last week’s SA Jewish Report.

Farber, whose identity wasn’t revealed last week to protect his privacy, read the article and decided he, too, wanted to share his story in a bid to raise awareness of this life-changing and life-giving surgery.

“When I think about this gift and from whom I’ve received it, I see goodness in humankind,” he told the SA Jewish Report.

“It speaks to strong communal bonds, and the admirable courage of one man to make this sacrifice. It’s a wonderful demonstration of the ethos which is part of Jewish life,” he said.

The two men have been discharged from the Wits Donald Gordon Medical Centre, and are reportedly recovering well.

“I am at home, regaining my strength. I feel physically better and stronger,” said Farber, “Emotionally, I will be able to look forward to a normal life in every respect.”

Ten years ago, Farber was diagnosed with renal failure. Doctors managed to keep him off dialysis for seven years. More than three years ago, he was forced to undergo dialysis three times a week. This involves having two needles inserted near the patient’s wrist, one to remove blood to a machine that cleanses it and one to return the clean blood to the patient’s body. The machine performs the job of cleaning the blood in place of the kidneys.

“It’s a therapy that keeps you alive, but is very restrictive in regard to the ability to lead a completely full life,” said Farber.

Patients require a positive attitude and a lot of patience, he said.

Up until recently, Farber was undergoing three four to five-hour sessions of dialysis a week.

“Add to this the time it takes to travel to and from treatment, the traffic, and bed availability, it can take up to six hours every time,” he said.

Farber who became “an avid reader and movie watcher” said he “went into it positively”.

“If you see the positive side, it becomes far easier to tolerate,” he said.

After each session, he’d drive himself home and spend time with his family, his wife Corinne, and their sons, Alan and Richard.

“I felt good after the sessions, a little tired, but I knew I could go to work the next day and be productive,” said Farber, senior counsel and member of the Maisels Group of Advocates.

“The dialysis unit is very accommodating. It runs into the night so when necessary, I could arrive and leave later,” he said.

“During treatments, you are exposed to people from all walks of life from rich to poor; the optimistic to the pessimistic. You get a completely different vista on life in general. Some people you become quite close to.”

When he started dialysis, he immediately put his name on the general kidney transplant list knowing it was going to be a long haul.

“It’s a long list of patients, there is great demand, and the prospect of getting a kidney isn’t great. People can wait for years, some are lucky, others not. My age would have counted against me,” he said.

He was unaware of Hatzolah’s Life2Life organisation started six years ago to assist patients with community-based donations of blood, platelets, stem cells, and kidneys.

“I was working with a junior colleague one day who had recently attended a Hatzolah and Life2Life breakfast. She told me about it and suggested I contact the organisation. One thing led to another, and before I knew it, Lance Abramson from Hatzolah was searching for a donor,” he said this week.

It has taken several years to reach this point, and Farber said he never lost hope of being successfully matched with a donor.

“I always felt that there were forces looking after me. I had faith that it was going to be okay. I knew that Life2Life was working for me, which gave me hope and belief,” he said.

He was finally matched with Friedman, who was keen to pay it forward after his father’s successful surgery several years ago.

The pair were introduced to each other for the first time before the surgery last week.

“He came into my ward shortly before the surgery. We hugged and shed a few tears,” said Farber, who is overcome with gratitude.

“Life2Life made this possible. I’m so fortunate to be part of this incredible community,” he said.

There are three patients waiting for an altruistic donor in the community, said Abramson.

Farber, who is focusing on getting back to the business of living life to the full, said he was looking forward to seeing his donor again.

“I’m confident I’ll see him again,” he said, “Being an altruistic donor is doing an unbelievable mitzvah that brings life and hope to others, something that people should take seriously, think about, and make whatever decision they are comfortable with. I’m one of the lucky ones.”

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