SUNDAY, MARCH 25, 2012

by Sharon Langert

As I sit here, pain free, 3 days post op, I’m excited to finally be able to write this post explaining why I decided to donate my kidney to a woman I don’t even know, and what an incredible experience it has been so far.

My journey to this place began about 7 months ago on Facebook.  Facebook, like anything else, if used properly for the good, can be an incredible place. For those of you out there that are in complete denial about the benefits of social media, or love to criticize it because you don’t understand it, you don’t know what you’re missing. Besides for the incredible amount of social support and connection available, Facebook also offers  a wealth of knowledge and opportunities streaming at you on a constant basis. It’s  also a wonderful platform for chesed (kind deeds). I have comforted others (and been comforted), raised money and prizes for auctions for charity organizations and now, donated a kidney and possibly will inspire others to…all through Facebook.

It all started with Leah’s Kidney Transplant and Recovery Group on Facebook. Now, as you all know, I am a modern day frum Mom who’s also a fashion and lifestyle blogger; I’m not a medical anything. I knew Leah peripherally through my sister in law. When I was invited to join her group I had no idea that Leah even had kidney disease; until I started reading some of her posts. Through Facebook in general we closely connected and, although we lived only a few short blocks away from each other, we hardly ever actually see each other in person. But boy do we spend a lot of time together online. She was one of my first Fashion-isha supporters and I was a quiet stalker in her group. (I felt a little out of my comfort zone in there so I would comment only once in a while when something really struck me. )

One time, I was reading one of Leah’s posts after a really hard day on dialysis. She simply stated something like this: “If more people would understand how horrible the quality of life is while on dialysis, (or that there is NO quality of life on dialysis),  possibly more people would consider donating a kidney.”  And as my heart went out to her plight, that one sentence turned the proverbial light bulb on over my head and I immediately thought to myself, “I WANT to donate a kidney.”

I approached my husband and told him about it and he immediately said, “You really want to do this? Go for it!” I was surprised by his answer, but I was also pleased. I messaged Leah and asked her if she needed a donor and she told me she already had one and that I should contact Renewal, an organization that matches donors and recipients and offers an unbelievable support system for both parties.

After contacting Renewal, they put me in touch with Gretchen Bretzlaff, the transplant coordinator at Cornell Medical Center at the New York Presbyterian Hospital to do preliminary blood work and a urinalysis. They asked me if there was a specific person I wanted to donate to and I said I’d love to help a mother in need.  I always felt a special connection with other mothers and am extremely sensitive to the emotions of children.  I understand how important a mother is to her kids and it just made sense for me and felt right.

A few weeks later Renewal told me I matched 2 men and asked if I would go for more tests. I felt bad that I only wanted to donate to a mother when these men were in need, so after a few weeks of procrastinating and actually being really busy, I overcame my unease and said I would go for the testing. At that point, they no longer needed me for those men!

Then late in January,  I received an email from Mrs. Noe from Renewal, asking if my schedule would ever ease up and would there be any day at all that I could go in to be tested. I asked for whom I would be testing for and she answered that it was a young mother from Queens. Well, this was it, I literally felt Hashem (G-d) put this opportunity right in front of me. You know what they say, ‘Be careful what you ask for, cuz you just might get it..’

I called the hospital and scheduled my day of testing.

About Cornell Medical Center, I want to just say that they are one of the most organized, accommodating and pleasant hospitals I have ever had an experience with. My coordinator was a sweetheart, and between her and Renewal, they worked miracles at getting all the scheduling to work out. They knew it wasn’t the easiest thing for me to travel into the city from Lakewood and they were able to squeeze most of my tests into one day! This is almost completely unheard of.

Here was how my day of testing went: I showed up at 9 am and met with Gretchen who asked me once again why I want to donate my kidney. I told her I am a person who loves to help others, that it gives me my greatest joy. I told her I am not afraid of hospitals, needles and medical stuff, and that every time I go to a doctor for a routine visit and fill out those forms I am so grateful that I can check off how healthy I am. At those moments I feel connected to Hashem and know that health is not just a free gift, but a tremendous opportunity.  Gretchen’s warm smile and response was so very validating!

After that I had some more blood taken, another urinalysis, and went to meet the Nephrologist.  He’s actually a really nice guy who’s also an orthodox Jew from New Jersey, and as he quickly examined me, he asked me many of the same questions that Gretchen did. During that day I answered a lot of the same questions about 6 or 7 times.

Next I met a financial advisor who reassured me that every medical expense would be paid for by the recipient’s insurance and I would not get billed for ANY tests, procedures or care regarding the kidney transplant. She also educated me about the laws in New York regarding stage 3 kidney disease. She tells me that Medicaid actually acts as a net and picks up all the expenses of the recipient that her insurance company will not. Amazing!

Then I’m rushed down to my appointment with the psychiatrist, because anyone that’s an altruistic donor needs to get her head checked by a shrink to make sure she’s completely sane. (This was probably the test I feared the most!) I sat with the psychiatrist for an hour while she asked me questions about my childhood, my marriage, if I ever thought about suicide (to which I answered, “If I wanted to kill myself I’d find an easier way than this.”), how my kids felt about what I was doing etc. She wanted to make sure I wasn’t in complete denial of the minimal risks associated with the surgery.

After that I met with the social worker who basically asked me the same questions again and then Menachem from Renewal took me down to the Bikur Cholim Chesed Room so I could get a sandwich for after my chest x-ray and CAT scan. (I was fasting for all the tests and all I really wanted was to go to Starbucks!) I did those last two tests and then collapsed in a Starbucks a few blocks away from the hospital to just catch my breath and recharge before my trip back to Lakewood.

I’m not sure of the exact details but either that very night or the next day, Menachem called and told me they wanted to schedule me for surgery within two weeks because they were really trying to prevent the recipient from having to go on dialysis before Pesach. That’s when it hit me like a ton of bricks…this was really going to happen…as long as my medical tests came back OK.

At this point my husband and I started getting a little more nervous. This was getting real and as the festive holiday of Purim passed quickly and the pre Passover hustle began swirling around me, my husband and I had no idea if I was having the surgery or not, or if I was making Pesach or not. The not knowing was the worst! I had to go for a couple more follow up tests, each one taking chunks of time out of my husband’s and my days, never knowing what the results would be and if they would come back on time. I was tentatively scheduled for surgery on Thursday the 22nd of March but on the Thursday before, they were still waiting for some test results. I remember that morning, on the way to meeting my friend for coffee, feeling intense anxiety and saying to myself, “If I do not get the go ahead by this weekend I am pushing the surgery off until after Pesach. I cannot wait any longer.” As I sat with my friend sipping the whip cream off my mocha latte, my phone rang and it was Gretchen!

“Hi Sharon, how are you?”
“I’m good, but I have a feeling this is not going to work out before Passover. It’s just causing me too much anxiety not knowing.”
“I know, but I have some other news for you.”
(Uh oh, alarms start going off in my head…did the MRI they sent me for the cyst on my liver come back as something more serious? Prepare yourself for the worst!)
“Really? What is it? Is the cyst on my liver not benign?”
“No…(silence), but you DID get the go ahead…you’re on for surgery for next Thursday!”

What??

And this is what I felt: Happiness, relief, gratefulness.

I felt Hashem smiling down on me as if to say, “You are worthy, you were chosen to do this mitzvah, this is meant to happen.” And from then on it became a completely spiritual journey.

Now don’t get me wrong. I had my MAJOR pockets of anxiety over the next week. I am usually a fearless person but I must admit I was really scared. Maybe if this was my purpose in life I would be done and I wasn’t ready to die! Maybe I was being completely selfish in my altruism; if something were to happen to me wouldn’t that be the most selfish thing I could do to my family? I even came up with the word ‘selflish’ to describe what I was feeling. I cried a lot. But in the end I felt Hashem holding my hand and guiding me down this path. There was no turning back. Two days before the surgery my husband and I were having an especially stressful day; we were both too stressed out to be supportive of each other. At one point he said to me, “Just push this thing off until after Pesach!” and my response was, “NO I CANNOT I am doing this!” I am not one to fight back so strongly, but to me, there was no other option.

And then the day before the procedure arrived and I was in the best mood ever. I was so excited to be able to do such a great Mitzvah. I ran around stocking up my house and doing last minute errands full of energy and joy. Later that evening, while my husband and I were getting ready for bed, my husband said to me, “Sharon, you do not have to do this. No one will think less of you if you change your mind, it is your choice and it’s okay if you want to back out.” And I calmly answered, “Do you want to know how I feel? I feel like Hashem gave me this left kidney to hold for Orly (the recipient) for 43 years and now it’s her turn to have it. It belongs to her. I simply cannot back out, it’s no longer my kidney.”

To be continued….

TUESDAY, MARCH 27, 2012

MY AMAZING EXPERIENCE DONATING MY KIDNEY – PART II

So I’m back to continue my story, and if you haven’t read the first part, definitely do so by clicking HERE. I had left off on the night before the surgery, when my husband had offered me the opportunity to back out and I simply and calmly said that no, I could not, because I just ‘felt’ and knew that the kidney was no longer mine, that I had been holding it for Orly for the last 43 years and now it belonged to her.The previous Monday I had gone into New York for my pre-op checkup and to meet the surgeon. Previous to that my stress levels were running pretty high. I was trying to do research as to exactly how dangerous the procedure was and what it would feel like after. Many people told me it was comparable to a c-section which I had never had. Some people I knew were fine right after a c-section and some people suffered terribly for weeks. Another wonderful and very brave ‘new’ friend of mine, who had just donated a kidney a few weeks before me, told me it was much worse to her than her c-section. I honestly did NOT know what to expect.That Monday, when I got the hospital for my pre op appointment, I saw a cute young woman in the waiting area and just had this ‘feeling’ that this was the recipient. She smiled at me as I got called in to have more blood taken and to meet with my other coordinator, Marion. When I sat down with the Marion I asked straight out, “Was that the recipient?” She smiled and said, “I’m not going to lie to you, it is. Would you like to meet her?” I was so taken aback, I didn’t really know what to say. Was I allowed to meet her before the surgery? What would it be like? Marion told me she thinks I should meet her and went to ask Orly (the recipient) if she would like to meet me.When she entered the room, the emotions were completely overwhelming. She tried to thank me but she could hardly get the words out as they were interrupted by streams of tears.  I stood there feeling awkward and humbled and completely unworthy of her gratitude. The magnitude of what was happening here was way more than my brain could comprehend in that moment and I just struggled for the right words to say. I have no recollection what I did say but I remember hugging and crying. And as she explained to me her gratefulness of not having to go on dialysis,never did I understand more than in that moment what real relief from real fear felt like. I cannot explain to you the gratefulness I felt for my health. Hashem truly gives us EXTRA doses of health so we can help those who have less. There is no doubt in my mind about that!During that day, so many of my fears were eased. The first thing I said to the coordinator and to the surgeon were, “Whatever you do I CANNOT die because my family will be really pissed at me if I do!” Humor definitely is a tool I use to get me through my scary moments. Both of their reactions were the same. They laughed and said that was not going to happen…they could not break their records of success! They both reassured me that the procedure was safe and easy. Easier than a hernia operation or a c-section. I even asked if it was easier than a tummy tuck. I mean, think about all the people that voluntarily go under the knife for reasons of vanity! They both told me the recovery for plastic surgery is much more painful and the surgery much more difficult. I was feeling much better now, I’m not going to lie, the thought of plastic surgery had on occasion entered my mind (not that I would actually do it but I highly doubt it’s not a fantasy of many women.) If I would consider that, and this was easier, how could I not do this?

My coordinator explained exactly what  I would feel after the surgery. She said I would wake up groggy and drugged and not feel any pain. She said I may be a little nauseous from the anesthesia (I was NOT), and my throat might be scratchy from the breathing tube (it was NOT). She said my worst pain would be on day two and three and mostly from the gas that they pump into you to make room for the surgery. Once the gas pain passed it would feel like extreme achiness as if I did 1000 sit ups or something like that. And I can honestly say that they did not lie to me. Everything they said was either easier or exactly like they said.

After I met him, I googled the surgeon and found out he is a top Urologist who heads the department and practices the most cutting edge technology in laproscopic and robotic surgery. By now I was feeling really confident and happy about the whole process.

Thursday – Surgery Day: 

(times are approximate)

4 AM

The alarm goes off. I hear my husband say,  “Sharon get up it’s time!” I’m seriously not awake. I tell myself, “Get up, you can’t just not show up for surgery. Okay I’ll just close my eyes for a second.”

Next thing I know, a little more urgent, “Sharon wake up we have to leave!” Okay it’s time.

5:15 AM

We are driving into the city, I’m eerily calm.  We cross Manhattan and drive through Times Square, the lights and colors all feel so vivid and surreal. I feel more alive than ever.

6:30 AM

I am changed into my scrubs and chilling with my hubs in a waiting area. He’s trying to take pictures of me with my puffy blue surgical hat to post on Facebook. My heart is beating pretty fast so I take some deep breaths. The people from Renewal come in to give us support, then the surgeon comes in to mark off the area of surgery. I start asking for tequila shots or valium from anyone that enters the room even though I am fasting and know I cannot eat or drink anything.

7:30 AM

It’s time! First I get escorted to see Orly and meet her family. She is not nervous at all. She looks beautiful and is smiling from ear to ear. Then I say bye to my husband, something like, “See ya soon….luv you!” and walk right up to the OR where I’m greeted by the cutest looking girls in scrubs. I’m like, “Hey are you girls going to be assisting with the surgery? This all looks so cool, like a real life Greys Anatomy.” They laugh and say yes, it is really cool and it’s exactly like Grey’s Anatomy but without the…ahem…parts that shall not be mentioned here. We all laugh. I climb up on the warmed table and say, “This is actually really nice, I feel like I’m about to get a massage or something.” They laugh and say, “Yes we treat our donors like real VIPs” I make another joke about someone getting me some tequila shots and they are like, “We have something much better for you than that.” Next thing I know I’m all happy and lala, then…lights out.

10:30 AM

I wake up and I’m fine! I vaguely try to remind myself how grateful I’m supposed to feel that I didn’t die, but I’m really just too tired and relaxed. I see my husband hovering before me and I’m really happy to see him. He comes over and reminds me that I promised people I would pray for them when I first woke up from the surgery. (Supposedly this is a very special time to pray.) He assists me in what I’m supposed to say…I’m half alert but I feel good. I sleep.

Later I’m moved into my room. I am fully alert and was able to transfer into my bed. When I feel any pain I call the nurse and she gives me meds. People come to visit me throughout the day and evening. I’m in good spirits and tell people this is easier than having a baby. By Thursday night they take me off morphine and give me percocet. I’m good to go!

This is me three hours after surgery!

Friday:

I wake up and feel like a truck ran over me. Okay this is what they were talking about. Like my coordinator had told me, the pain was mostly in my shoulders from gas. That little fact takes the entire fear factor out of the pain and makes it completely bearable. My nurse comes in to bother me about getting up to walk. She tells me, “The more you walk the faster the gas will come out and the quicker you’ll feel better.” Nice. As I lay in bed I listen to people walking up and down the hallways burping really loud. Nice. I push myself to get up and walk. I’m thinking, if only the fashion people could see me now…

Five days later…

It’s Tuesday afternoon. My ten year old just came home from school and is making banana cake with my 16 year old while I laze it up in bed writing this post on my laptop. Since Friday, may pain has been truly minimal. I have cut my percocet dosage in half and am slowly weaning myself off. Actually I feel amazing.
I’m eating regularly, going to the bathroom regularly and enjoying all the positive feedback and connection I have been receiving over the last few days via phone, email, my blog and facebook. I am secretly relishing in the fact that all around me women are rushing around to get ready for Pesach and I get to take it easy.

And here’s the best part: I have been in touch with my new friend, Orly, who is doing amazing too. Her numbers are unheard of…HER new kidney is BH working great!

Kidney disease is a terminal illness and without the kidney’s ability to effectively filter one’s blood the body becomes toxic and deathly ill. Dialysis is the process of removing the blood, cleaning it and putting it back in the body. It is painful and takes hours out of people’s lives. Life on dialysis is hardly life at all. Receiving a kidney is receiving a new life.  This is what Orly wrote on Facebook today:

“I just want to let everyone know that Sharon Langert saved not only my life, she saved my 7 years old and my husband’s life…..Sharon is amazing person from inside and outside….love you Sharon”

If you have any thoughts at all of possibly donating one of your kidneys or even considering this amazing Mitzvah, please come forward. Contact me at ask.fashionisha@gmail.com, message me on FACEBOOK or contact Renewal HERE. I can explain to you why you can live with just one kidney the same way you’ve been living your whole life, and also ease your fears about what the process will feel like.

 

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