Why Does Organ Donation Matter?: Daniel Aarons on Shabbat Sukkah, October 5, 2012

During Sukkot each year, Anshe Chesed Fairmount Temple hosts a range of celebrations, holiday experiences and “uncommon conversations” under the canopy of the communal Sukkah. This year, on Friday, October 5, 2012, temple member Daniel Aarons spoke to the issue organ donation in our community, explaining its personal relevance to him as an organ donation recipient, and the value of life-saving in Jewish tradition. We encourage you to share these remarks below that Daniel Aarons shared at Shabbat services, make comments below, and ask questions you may have, along with raising the conversation between you and your family members, physicians, etc. in case a time where you might be able to donate arises.

Why does organ donation matter?

As I began preparation to share my story with you tonight, I did not know how to express my thoughts about critical importance of donation and the impact a selfless gift has had on my life.  I received an e-mail from my cousin, who is a college freshman, asking me to answer questions on the purpose of life for her English course.   The most interesting part of the exercise for me was that my answers would have been vastly different before I got sick and became a kidney transplant recipient. My perspective on how to live a fulfilling and meaningful life has evolved during my experience.

Why is organ donation important?  Here are the facts.

Currently, nearly 115,000 people in the United States are looking for donation.  A million more suffer with conditions that can be treated with donated corneas or tissues.  In the United States every 10 minutes someone is added to the national list.

In Northeastern Ohio alone, approximately 1,800 individuals are waiting for an organ.  Of the 1,800 Northeastern Ohioans on the waiting list, 1,300 or 72% are waiting for a kidney.   As we welcome in Shabbat, an average of 18 people will die in U.S. today because an organ was not available. One organ donor can save 8 lives, while a tissue donor can enhance the lives of 50 plus people.  About 6,500 transplants from living donors are performed each year in the US.

Why did I need a transplant?

I have a polycystic kidney disease or PKD which is a genetic disorder that causes numerous cysts that enlarge the kidneys.  The cysts reduce kidney function and lead to kidney failure.  The kidney is a vital organ because it filters waste and extra fluid from your body.  Kidneys also regulate your body vitals such as temperature and blood pressure. Without proper kidney function, a person can feel constant pain, is prone to headaches, high blood pressure and tiredness.

Since PKD and renal failure does not happen overnight, unlike other organ illness, a kidney patient can be on dialyses to do the work that the kidney does. I did peritoneal or home dialyses which meant I had to connect to a machine every night and all night until my donation. The machine at night did the functions that my kidneys could not do on their own.

Why am I here speaking to you tonight?

It’s because of the gift of organ donation.  I am not tethered to a machine every evening and I can enjoy all the activities I did prior to kidney failure and even more.

A few things I’d like you to know about my donor.  My donor is 4 years younger than me.  She is part of a family that is active members of Fairmont Presbyterian Church.  She heard my story while hanging out with my little sister, Alison and wanted to help.  That’s it, nothing more.  She made a call to the Cleveland Clinic and asked if she could be tested as a possible donor.  We learned that our kidneys were a perfect match a few months later and she made the courageous and selfless decision to donate.

As I tell this story during a Friday night service at Fairmount Temple it’s very important to note that according to the association of organ procurement organizations all major religious groups support transplant. A Jewish teaching says, “If you save one life, it is as if you have saved the entire world.”

In my case her religion gave my donors family support as she gave me a kidney. Her parent’s church, Fairmount Presbyterian Church not only prayed for her they also prayed for me. One the day of the surgery, Tax Day 2009, her family presented me with this prayer blanket that was made by her church.  My family held the prayer blanket close to them as they waited to hear that the kidney looked great and immediately “pinked up” during the transplant surgery.   I carried this blanket during my recuperation and still keep it close. That day different religions didn’t matter.

What is the experience like for the donor?

The surgery is actually pretty simple. I know it is still surgery. Since I work at a hospital, I was able to see the donor part long before I thought I would ever need a kidney. Once in surgery, they make sure everything is looks good for the donor before removing the kidney, they clean it and in my case they gave it to me in the OR next door.  However, most organs can travel if the donor located in another city.

How did my donor do after surgery? She was discharged from the hospital 3 days later.  She walked into my room smiling before she went home. I also think it’s amazing that she traveled to Europe on vacation 2 months later.

That’s my story.

So at the beginning I asked why is organ donation important.

Well, I have one good reason. I am standing here healthy today, because someone donated.