HAIFA – A rare kidney transplantation between Jewish and Arab family members was successfully performed last week by Dr. Rawi Ramadan, director of Rambam Hospital’s Medical Transplantation Unit in the Department of Nephrology. According to a hospital spokesperson, both patients have returned home to their respective families in the metropolitan Haifa region.
The two patients, David Ben-Yair, 57, and Muhammad Eckert, 32, received organs from unlikely donors, with Eckert’s wife, Ra’sha, donating a kidney to Ben-Yair and Ben-Yair’s son Shmuel donating his kidney to Eckert. Prior to the operation the health of both patients had taken a turn for the worse as their failing kidneys required them to undergo regular dialysis treatments. Up until the operation, Ben-Yair and Eckert had never met.
In an interview with The Jewish Press, Dr. Ramadan explained how this unique medical encounter came about.
“We test every patient that has a living donor in order to evaluate if such a transplant can be done within the family,” said Dr. Ramadan. “But sometimes one of the patients has a blood type or antibodies that doesn’t match with the other family member. In this particular case, the Jewish father had antibodies in his blood that weren’t an exact match with his son.
“With today’s medical technologies, we could have actually performed the transplant within the same family but we would have had to give them a lot of pre-operative medications, which come with both short-term and long-term side effects. Thus, it was better to do the exchange between the Jewish and Arab families, as both patients received the same quality of kidneys and we were able to treat them with a minimal amount of anti-rejection medications.”
While this type of procedure is rare in Israel, it is not unheard of. “There was something similar performed about eight years ago, also between Jewish and Arab couples. But if someone doesn’t walk in the front door like these two families did, we have a database for patients waiting for various types of transplants, where we will check other hospitals in the area as well,” Dr. Ramadan said.
When the doctor concluded that both Ben-Yair and Eckert could benefit from a complicated but doable cross-transplantation, he suggested the delicate procedure to both families individually.
“There was never any hesitation. To them, it didn’t matter who donated to whom. As far as they are concerned, they donated a kidney to a family member, and their donation saved a life,” said Dr. Ramadan, who has been performing transplants for nearly 20 years.
“I am an Arab physician and I have yet to come across a case where a Jew and an Arab refused to donate to the other side. Everyone who donates is resolving a critical problem on both sides. Though the operation involving the Ben-Yairs and Eckerts was complicated, there were no real inherent dangers.”
Last week, the donors, Ra’sha Eckert and Shmuel Ben-Yair, entered adjacent operating rooms simultaneously for the procedure to remove their kidneys. The surgery lasted about three hours. Immediately after surgery, the two were moved to recovery rooms and Muhammad Eckert and David Ben-Yair entered surgery. Their surgeries lasted about three and a half hours.
When the families met for the first time after the cross-transplantation, it was an emotionally charged encounter.
“We talked about everything – children, family, life, what we went through,” said David Ben-Yair. “Muhammad is a lovely person and I’m glad to know him. Fate brought us together, connected our bodies and minds.”
Muhammad Eckert also praised David. “David is a great man,” he said. “We enjoy and care about each other. We are an integral part of one another now – really family. Whoever saves a life is sacred, whether Jewish or Arab. God’s blessing will prevail.”