Sunday, March 25, 2012

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!"


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....
Until next time,
For more information on kidney donation feel free to contact me at ask.fashionisha@gmail.com or contact Renewal on their facebook page HERE.
Please excuse any errors in this post..blame it on the percocet ;)

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  1. Wow-- How cool! You are such a kind & extremely brave person. This is very inspiring... I just saw a commercial about donating plasma and just doing that scares me! Maybe I will think of your story and go for it--to help others.

    You said, "Maybe if this was my purpose in life I would be done and I wasn't ready to die!" Interestingly enough, I often think this way too! I'm sure you have much much more to do though! :)

    Looking forward to Part II of the story!

  2. Wow! You truly are a role model for us all. I am amazed at your selflessness, and your positive spiritual outlook. May you continue to inspire others.

  3. Oh, Sharon. This is so touching and really a remarkable story! I am in awe of your beyond generous gift and to someone you didn't know.
    You are such an inspiration.
    Big hugs to you - you are not only incredibly giving but so very brave, too.

  4. Alot of people talk the talk but very few walk the walk. You are a amazing and very giving human being.
    Bless your loving heart.

  5. You are amazing, Sharon! Brought tears to my eyes ... ברכות ובריאות!

  6. I am moved to tears. What can I say? Wow, Am Yisroel feels for one another like no other....

  7. Sharon you are an amazing person!What a special give to give another human being. The only thing I donate is blood every eight weeks but an organ, to be honest I never thought about it. You're such a brave woman but I knew you were always a special woman. I'm glad you're doing well and even better you've saaved someone...what a gift!


  8. Thank you for being an inspiration to all of us young mothers and for bringing so much positive energy into the world. Huge yasher koach!!!!

  9. OMG!!!!!!!!! I am totally blown away Sharon! You are AMAZING, there is no font big enough to put it in! Seriously you are such an inspriation and role model....what a nobel and beautiful thing you have done. I am so touched and moved by this incredibly kind gesture. I love your outlook and your postiive energy. Wish you could bottle it up and sell it. I hope you are feeling well...look forward to reading more of this incredible story!

  10. Your selflessness is so inspiring!

  11. what can i say..... giving is the best way of recieving. very inspirational to us all.

  12. I just read this twice and I have tears in my eyes...I always wondered what type of person can do this and I just got my answer.A very special and amazing person...What a beautiful thing to do...May you and your recipient have a complete and speedy recovery.

  13. wow i really applaud you. i never thought of donating a kidney but this story is very inspiring. Thank you for sharing!

  14. WOW is all I can say! You are a very special person, and it's an even more amazing experience that you felt it was part of Hashem's plan.

    I wish you all the best and many blessings!!
    xo Rachel

  15. Wow, Sharon your story moved me to tears! May you have a speedy recovery! Im sure this will be a very special Pesach for you and your family as well as Orly and her family...

  16. I'm speechless and overwhelmed by your very touching story!!!
    Your journey on earth may last much longer than you think...
    People like yourself are the gems of the world!
    Thank you for sharing your story Sharon
    Sonia xo

  17. Oh my gosh. Sitting here with tears in my eyes as I read this. Sharon, what a beautiful person you are and what a powerful thing you did. I hope your recovery is very speedy recovery for both of you. I wanted to keep reading the story ... can't wait for Part II. What an inspiring post! xoxo

    Sandy at Ooh La Frou Frou

  18. Wow, Sharon you are so brave! What a beautiful story. This is so inspirational. this is the biggest chesed anybody can do for someone else.

  19. Sharon what an amazing story... a true inspiration to us all. May you have a very speedy recovery.

  20. Mi K'amcha Yisrael. You make this fashion blog not just about fashion, but about life and inspiration.

  21. I am so glad that the kidney surgery went smoothly and I hope your recovery is going well. I always knew you were an AMAZING woman, Sharon, but the more I learn about you the more in awe of you I am.

    What a giving, wonderful, warm Mother your children have. The gift of a kidney to a stranger is an unbelievably selfless act that you gave to that Mom and her family. For her to now have her health is everything!

    Much love you you. You inspire me beyond words. xoxo

  22. Sharon, What an amazing woman you are. I have so much admiration for what you have done. I read this with tears in my eyes.. Hopefully your story will inspire others to help others in ways that they can. Looking forward to hearing more and wishing you a speedy recovery from the surgery. xo

  23. I sit here in awe of your selflessness...You are incredible!

  24. What an inspiring and wonderful journey. Thank you for sharing, and especially for raising consciousnesss on the importance of organ donation!I wish you, Orly, and your respective families the very best of health!

  25. As a physician, I want to say thanks for this amazing gift and for appreciating the lives you will enhance with your donation, and as a mother I am overwhelmed with emotion as we all share in the fear of not being there for our children. I wish both of you a speedy recovery and many blessings for your family...What a lesson to teach all of us.

  26. I am in awe right now, you are simply put, amazing and selfless, there need to be more people like you out there!

  27. wow,wow,wow this is such an amazing story, i enjoy following your blog and this act of bravery and compassion has made my day...you are an inspiration

  28. Sharon,
    I am absolutely blown away by your story. Your selflessness. Your bravery. I think this is just about the kindest thing I've ever heard someone do.

    I hope you are healing well and thank you so much for sharing your story. You never know how it might influence someone who reads it.

    Big hugs!
    xoxo Elizabeth

  29. Sharon,
    You have an amazing and generous heart. Cannot believe you did this. So wonderful. A dear friend of mine, who has been diabetic since childhood,has had two kidney transplants. It truly has given her a second chance at life.

    You inspire so many and myself. Bless you Sharon. You are an angel.


  30. Tears are flowing down my cheeks. You are an amazing person Sharon.

  31. This is truly a great act of kindness. May G'd give you a long and blessed life.

  32. Sharon I in awe of someone as open hearted as you are. This is possibly one of the greatest gifts one can give.

    As others have said the moment I meant you through blogging, I saw your personality just shines. Love to you!

    Art by Karena
    The 2012 Artist Series

  33. Hello Sharon,
    I am here via Tina of The Enchanted Home. I want to commend you on your act of kindness, selflessness and courage. It is very scary to do what you have done. Not only for you but for all those who love you. The rest of your life you will know this, if there is anything you have done right with your life, this is it.
    Here's to a speedy recovering (luckily for the donor it is a cake walk compared to the recipient). So no whining, get up and move girlfriend, enjoy your life!!
    So happy to meet you and am now following your blog.

  34. Hi just coming from Tinas blog The Enchanted Home, where she posted about your amazing act of kindness. I am really touched by what you did and just wanted to say that I am amazed and touched by what you have done, she was so right that the world does need more people like you. Bravo to you.

  35. What a wonderful gift you have given to a mother and her children. You actually gave them back their life. How powerful!

  36. What an incredible act of Kindness & selflessness! A true inspiration - thank you!

  37. Hello Sharon,
    I found your blog quite by serendipity. I find myself being a lurker on more blogs than I realized. Your story just amazed me. I cannot say more than the other comments except to say ditto, ditto to everything said.

    I question purpose in my life all the time, and wow, you have just helped make things so clear, and moved a lot of silliness from my vision. Your recipient I know is grateful for your gift---I am just as grateful for knowing that people like you are here. Sincerely, Sharon L.

  38. I found your blog via the enchanted home and want to write and tell you what you already know- you have done an AMAZING thing and I have tears in my eyes. You have shared your self for another mother and it is inspiring. I can't wait to read more of your story.

  39. Sharon, I received a kidney transplant from an unknown donor - I think about her every day. You cannot understand the love and gratitude I feel for my donor and others like you. You are literally responsible for giving someone life. It is simply beyond words. Thank you for your selfless gift.

  40. Dear lady you have renewed my faith in people, someone in our family was also in need of a kidney transplant none of us was a match but his wife decided to donate one of her kidneys for someone else so he could get the one he needed, truly you are heroes, mayhave blessings showered upon you.

    Annie v.

  41. There are super-heros running around the face of this earth masked as everyday people of all shapes and sizes, colors, and orientations. Of this I'm sure you are one!

  42. Sharon, you owe of us bloggers a box of kleenex each. We're reading your lovely story and crying all over the place. You and Orly are amazingly special people. A sweet thought--I once heard that the more good deeds you do on earth, the more roses are yours when you get to Heaven. If that's true, you're going to have a mighty fragrant bouquet waiting for you.

  43. Here via The Enchanted Home. You ARE a beautiful person inside and out. Thank you for making the world a more beuatiful place and setting an example for everyone to see that there are still good people willing to bestow a kind act to others that they don't even know. You are a true hero. Thank you for what you have done.

  44. wow you are a true giver & am amazed how giving you have been, such a wonderful person to do what you have done. :)))

  45. Hi, Sharon:
    I am stopping by via Enchanted Home & so grateful that I happened to read the post about you! I donated a kidney to a childhood friend this past July & want to tell you that I am sending you my best thoughts & prayers. It was certainly one of the most amazing experiences of my life, one that I felt most privileged to be part of. My surgery was at North Shore in Manhasset & my experience matched yours. Most importantly, the recipient could not be doing better. Really. He went from close to death - literally - to healthy. Your donation to someone that you did not know is all the more generous. Please take care of yourself. I have never felt better, but it is important to rest & recuperate those first few weeks post surgery. May God bless & keep you and your recipient healthy!

  46. What a great gift you have given! I have been pretty negative on Facebook lately but after your post, can see how it can be a great connector. I am sure your story will inspire others to donate as well and even if it is 1 person, that is one more to help someone. So glad we have met in this fabulous blog universe. You are one special lady.

  47. This is an incredibly story, you're such a brave and kind person. Blessings.

  48. I am amazed at your selflessness, I have tears in my eyes and I can feel love in the world from knowing there are people like you out there.
    Whenever I think of donating a kidney, I think about giving it to a family member who needs it. While reading your story I kept thinking "I would love to do that for someone, but what if my father/sister/brother needs one of my kidneys later and I only have one?"
    I'm curious to know if that occurred to you at all during your decision process, and again, god bless you for being so kind and generous. You are a beautiful person inside and outside.