Kidney donor Jennifer Green and recipient Jonathan Levin marvel at the services of Renewal, the New York-based support organization for kidney transplants.
The organization was born 12 years ago as the result of a relatively ordinary episode. Inside a waiting room, Mendy Reiner met a middle-aged man with bloodshot eyes who looked drunk.
“I lost my job,” the man said, prompting Reiner to reach into his pocket and hand him $40.
“No, young man, I don’t need your money,” the man said, shaking his head. “I need a kidney.”
Reiner responded by placing ads with his phone number in several newspapers: “Father of five, blood type O, in need of kidney.”
Twenty to 30 people called to say they were willing to donate a kidney or to inquire about finding out their blood type, while others called to ask for help getting a kidney for themselves or loved ones.
The idea took root, and Reiner was on a mission. He visited various organizations, sharing his vision of helping people find kidney donors through the media.
“You’re crazy,” Reiner heard time after time. “No one will donate a kidney because of an ad in the paper.”
Reiner approached Sendy Orenstein, the founder of many community organizations, who agreed that the plan would never work. After much insisting by Reiner, Orenstein agreed to
try it, directing Reiner to Rabbi Chaim Steinmetz.
Rabbi Steinmetz, the current director at Renewal, paved the way for Renewal to work with transplant centers. Orenstein now is the president of Renewal.
“If we do one transplant, our investment will have paid off,” Reiner said. “Two will be a grand slam. Fast-forward — Renewal did 64 transplants in 2015. Our organization is responsible for 25 percent of all altruistic kidney transplants in the United States.”
Altruistic transplants are those in which a living donor is not giving to a close friend or family member.
Renewal helps recipients encourage their friends and neighbors, engendering a sense of community and unity.
“Guilt and pressure are never employed,” Rabbi Sturm said. “Kidney donation is not for everyone. Donors need family support, health clearance, and can’t do it on a whim. It has to be a well-thought-out decision. Our goal is to simply create awareness.”
“We recently transplanted a 76-year-old professor who advertised on Facebook,” Reiner said. “The donor was a doctor who had bought a commodity that the professor invented; they already had a connection.”
Renewal has facilitated transplants into children as young as 2, and the oldest recipient is 82.
“Each case is unique,” Rabbi Sturm said. “Usually patients come to us at the end stage of renal failure, and we come up with a strategy to help them find a donor. It is awesome to be able to interact with regular people on a regular basis doing something extraordinary. When I see families vying for the privilege of helping their loved one, it is beautiful.”
A 16-year-old girl’s donor told Rabbi Sturm that her father has always been her teacher. “But when I saw him donate a kidney,” she said, “it made all the difference in the world.”
The rabbi said donors just see the world differently. For example, an ad for a mother of three who needed a kidney inspired wide sympathy for the woman, but the eventual donor focused on the three children who needed their mother.
“When I speak to donors about their motivation,” Rabbi Sturm said, “I am continually awed anew. Time after time I’ve waited to hear earth-shattering revelations. But the simplicity is profound: ‘Someone needed it. I had it, so I did it.’ ”