They both feel that they were destined to meet someday, and they did.
This is a story about two men: one a recent kidney donor and the other the recipient of the vital organ. It is also about the magnificent work of Renewal, the organization educating potential organ donors and facilitating the process from start to conclusion and through to recovery. Recently, Renewal matched its 498th kidney transplant, a noteworthy milestone for a group that has saved, changed, and dramatically impacted so many lives. They expect to reach number 500 over the next several weeks.
On June 12, Dr. Zvi Fischer of Fair Lawn, New Jersey, donated one of his kidneys to Aaron Chait of Queens. Both men are in their mid-60s, and while they did not know one another, they soon discovered that a common bond exists between them that goes back decades.
As is routine, the identities of the donor and the recipient are kept confidential at their discretion. Most choose anonymity simply because they do not want the attention.
On the other hand, speaking out serves the cause by providing encouragement to others who are contemplating donating a kidney to someone in need.
Fischer is a retired gastroenterologist. He submitted the routine swab from inside his cheek last Sukkos, and he says that he was a little surprised when he did not hear from Renewal until about a month later. As a medical professional, he was well aware that he was older than the average kidney donor, though Renewal has developed a reputation for the alacrity with which they function. The national average waiting time for a kidney is seven years. With Renewal, the average wait is about three months, and that is a truly remarkable reflection of the sensitivity and concern demonstrated by the group and its founders.
Aside from the technical and medical details of these types of procedures, the next most dramatic thing is the seemingly random matter in which the donor and recipient are thrown together.
While that is the case here, in nearly all of the hundreds of transplants that have been facilitated by Renewal over the years, it seems that each donor and recipient feels that the other is the hero. The donor we are profiling here, Dr. Fischer, feels so grateful that Renewal was able to find Mr. Chait to receive his spare — if you can call it that — kidney. Needless to say, Mr. Chait is filled with even greater gratitude and appreciation to Dr. Fischer because his life is being extended and actually saved.
So what do these two men have in common other than a kidney? Both Dr. Fischer and Mr. Chait shared with me this common bond that goes back approximately a half-century. When Dr. Fischer was a ninth-grade student at MTA (the high-school division of YU), his rebbe was Rabbi Leon Chait, his kidney recipient’s uncle.
But that is not all. Zvi Fischer grew close to Rabbi Chait over his formative years, and Rabbi Chait was actually the presiding rabbi at the Fischers’ wedding some 40 years ago.
What is it that a kidney donor thinks about before making the decision to proceed with the process? Zvi Fischer says that one of the things he had to grapple with was the idea of subjecting himself to what many would consider an unnecessary surgical procedure. On the other hand, he says, the pull in the other direction — to do something that literally saves a life — is overpowering and wins out.
In making the decision to become a donor, Dr. Fischer says he was not looking for a consensus from family members; he only discussed the matter with his wife and then told his children about his decision two weeks prior to the surgery at Montefiore Hospital.
As to the meeting between donor and recipient, Fischer says it was an emotional moment for both men, as can be expected. “I never met a tzaddik like that before,” says Aaron Chait. “Here’s a man who gave an absolute stranger a part of his body. There’s nothing comparable to that.”
I asked Mr. Chait whether they have talked since the transplant in the hospital. He said that they talk on a regular basis and that Dr. Fischer calls him regularly to see how he is doing.
Zvi Fischer was eager to donate a kidney because that is just the way he is — a person driven to do something extraordinary for another person in need, and that opportunity could not happen soon enough for him. When Mr. Chait’s doctors told him that the time for needing dialysis was drawing near, he contacted Renewal and was pleasantly surprised that the organization’s process identified a donor barely three months after contact was made.
Additionally interesting is that both men, who are about the same age, observed that they are of a similar stature, have similar values and interests, and are now connected, as are their families, from here on. Aaron Chait says that for him it is a new lease on life and the opportunity to be healthy and continue to watch his children and grandchildren develop and grow.
Frankly, there are many important organizations out there, but, arguably, none actually saves lives as directly and as intimately as Renewal. The group, its staff, and volunteers are out there working with donors and recipients and their families throughout what has to be a trying and, at some points, pressurized process.
Fischer said he first thought about donating a kidney two years ago. He hesitated at first because he wondered whether he was looking for unnecessary trouble by subjecting himself to surgery. But he looked at the statistics and the extremely high success rate of these procedures and how they change lives. Taking all that into consideration, he decided to plunge in and get it done.
Renewal needs more people like Dr. Zvi Fischer. That is why these men agreed to be identified and why we are writing their story. Josh Sturm of Renewal says that today there are more than 400 people on the Renewal list waiting for kidneys. He adds that in the general population in the United States there is a waiting list of 96,000 people.
So you see, there are hundreds of people like Aaron Chait out there. What is urgently needed are more good and generous people like Zvi Fischer. It is truly a matter of life.