Brooklyn, NY - Giving The Gift Of Life: Two Orthodox Men Share A Firsthand Account Of A Kidney Transplant
Brooklyn, NY - After years of advocating for kidney donation, a Brooklyn man has given another area resident the ultimate gift: that of a healthy kidney.
Rabbi Yoel Usher Labin, a 31 year old Borough Park resident and a father of five, has long been involved with Renewal, which assists those who are suffering with kidney disease, and in helping raise awareness for kidney donation within the Jewish community.
“I have done writing, marketing and participated in many events for Renewal,” Rabbi Labin told VIN News. “Years ago I wrote an article for them in a Yiddish newspaper and I personally have gotten five phone calls from kidney donors who told me that they decided to donate a kidney because of the article I had written.”
Rabbi Labin wears many hats, working as a freelance writer and a marketing advisor, as well as serving as the executive director of Dror and an active board member of Achim Bederech.
After years of urging others to consider kidney donation, Rabbi Labin decided recently that it was his turn to step up to the plate.
“I am an activist, always telling people what to do, how to do it and that is nice, but was I going to spend my whole life just telling other people what to do without doing it myself?”
Having spent so much time working with Renewal prior to his own surgery, Rabbi Labin was fully aware of the difficulties that face patients who suffer from kidney disease.
“People who aren’t familiar with renal failure don’t understand what it is like to be on dialysis,” explained Rabbi Labin. “It is a slow death, with a life expectancy of just five years for dialysis patients.”
“I spent a nice few days at Mt. Sinai Hospital for testing, to make sure that I was in good health and that my kidneys were fully functioning so that my one kidney would be able to do the work of both after the transplant,” said Rabbi Labin. “If people are willing to do things that take a toll on their bodies for sport, why not do it for a mitzvah?”
In the days prior to his surgery, Rabbi Labin went to several rabbonim from different segments of the Jewish community for brachos, including the Karlsburger Rebbe, the Rachmistrivka Rebbe, R’ Yosef Rosenblum, R’ Herschel Schachter and R’ Mordechai Willig.
“It wasn’t that I needed their blessings because I knew I was going to do a mitzvah,” explained Rabbi Labin. “I want to raise awareness for kidney donation and I want people to know about it so I went to both heimishe and Modern Orthodox rabbonim.”
The day of the surgery coincided with Rabbi Labin’s own birthday.
In an email sent out to his friends, Rabbi Labin asked for tefillos for both himself and his recipient, Robert Sendzischew of Brooklyn.
“Today the 18th of Kislev is my birthday, the very lucky day I have received a treasure, the brilliant gift of life. Today, Thursday,18th of Kislev, November 21st, I’ll be the lucky one again, by giving the gift of life to a fellow human being by donating to him my own G-d-given kidney. Today, two different people will be walking into the hospital; one of them in a healthy condition, while the other one critical and terribly ill. But at the end, they’ll both be walking out in a healthful condition. How wonderful is G-d’s phenomenal creation, which has planted in me a spare organ, an extra piece of actual life; life, to give away life. I’m thrilled, and I’m happy, what a day! Please be mispallel for me : Yoel Usher Yeshaya ben Malka Idei and the recipient Reuven Shlomo ben Fruma.”
The 18th of Kislev also proved to be a significant one for Sendzischew: it was the day that his only son put on tefillin for the first time.
“My wife and I had an event in my son’s school with his classmates, rabbeim and some of our friends,” said Sendzischew, who, despite having been on dialysis since last May, had only been on Renewal’s transplant list for a few days before he was matched with Rabbi Labin. “My son was the chazan and I showed him how to put on tefillin. He gave a d’var Torah and I had an aliyah. My son’s rebbe spoke about him, and after davening, we had a big breakfast to celebrate.”
After a successful four and a half hour surgery, Rabbi Labin and Sendzischew finally had the opportunity to meet for the first time.
“His recovery was faster than mine in the first few days, so he came to see me,” said Rabbi Labin. “I don’t remember exactly what he said because of the painkillers but he hugged me and told me that he had no words and that I saved his life.”
“I didn’t know Mr. Labin at all before this but he changed my life and my whole family’s life,” added Sendzischew. “He gave me an opportunity to extend my life and have the opportunity to have more time with my son and my wife.”
After four days, Rabbi Labin was released from the hospital. Sendizschew continues to recuperate at Mount Sinai.
According to Mendy Reiner, founder and chairman of Renewal, the statistics regarding kidney donation within the Orthodox Jewish community are quite impressive.
“While the average wait time for a kidney in the United States is five to seven years, with Renewal the wait is approximately six to eight months,” said Reiner. “Renewal was responsible for 25 percent of the altruistic kidney donations in the United States in 2012 and we expect the numbers to be even higher in 2013. It is beautiful to see that the Jewish community, which represents one half of a percent of the population, has been responsible for one quarter of the altruistic kidney transplants which took place in the United States last year.”
Despite the inherent difficulties of undergoing surgery, Rabbi Labin strongly urged others to consider kidney donation.
“Chesed is the common denominator between all different parts of the Jewish community,” observed Rabbi Labin. “Being able to undergo serious surgery and spend a few weeks recuperating gives someone the gift of life. It is a few days of pain and it isn’t easy but it is a month of recovery, maybe less, and for the recipient it brings a lifetime of good health.”
According to Sendzischew, the transplant literally gives him a new lease on life.
“My son’s Bar Mitzvah is a month from now and Mr. Labin gave me the amazing and unexpected opportunity to share this milestone and many more with my son and my wife. Each chesed and mitzvah that I do will be on Mr. Labin’s account and, G-d willing, this kidney will give me a long life where I can do much mitzvos and chesed and be able to share nachas with my wife and my son.”
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