As a teenager, Yitzchok Pinkesz became interested in the topic of organ donation and had explored the topic in-depth through his own studies as well as listening to lectures and attending conferences on the topic of halachic organ donation. About five years ago, Pinkesz contacted Chaya Lipschutz to express his interest in donating a kidney to someone in need. Lipschutz, who donated a kidney in 2005 after seeing an ad in The Jewish Press and is now known as the Kidney Matchmaker, volunteers her time to help facilitate kidney transplants. Lipschutz was able to match Pinkesz to someone who needed a kidney, but during the final evaluations, it was determined that due to some anatomic anomalies it would not be in Pinkesz’s best interest to donate his kidney. Pinkesz was disappointed that he could not go through with the donation.
At her employer-required physical nine years ago, Leba Katzen’s physician recommended a full panel of blood tests, as it was covered by her health insurance. (Leba Katzen is not her real name, which has been altered to protect her privacy.) The results of her liver function test were not normal, but it took doctors three years to diagnose Katzen with primary biliary cirrhosis (PBC). For six years she was able to keep her PBC under control through medication until December 31, 2014, when she suddenly vomited a large amount of blood. Katzen was rushed to the hospital for a blood transfusion and given five units. At that time she was told she would eventually need a liver transplant but it would be seven to ten years down the road.
Two weeks later, Katzen had a second, similar episode. “My doctor told me, ‘You are very sick and you need a new liver as soon as possible.’ ” Katzen said, “My sister immediately volunteered but then suffered from appendicitis and she was ruled out as a possible donor.”
Liver transplants are fairly rare. According to the United Network for Organ Sharing website, in the United States in 2012 there were 230 liver transplants from a living donor and 5,527 transplants from a deceased donor. In comparison for the same year, there were 5,135 kidney transplants from a living donor and 10,015 kidney transplants from a deceased donor. While kidney transplants are actually more difficult to match than liver transplants, the recovery for a liver transplant is much longer, can mean greater loss of wages and risks may be greater.
Information on the New York Columbia Presbyterian Hospital website indicates that the risk of dying while waiting for a liver from a cadaver is 50 percent, while the hospital has a 90 percent success rate for transplants from live donors. Katzen said that she had to go through a complex series of tests before she even was eligible to be put on the list of qualified possible liver recipients. “They needed to be sure I would be healthy enough to withstand the surgery if they located a liver for me, before they would put me on the list,” she said. “In the meantime, a friend of our family, Yisrael Andler, noticed a posting on the Teaneck Shuls yahoo group from KidneyMitzvah.com – Chaya Lipschutz – and while he knew she was a kidney matchmaker, he thought maybe she would have some information that would be helpful and he gave her a call.”
Lipschutz, who over the years has made dozens of matches between recipients and donors for kidney transplants, had not facilitated liver transplant matches in the past, because regulations did not allow transplants between adult strangers in New York state. When she got the call about Katzen, a 43-year-old Monsey mother of four, needing a liver, she recalled Pinkesz’s desire to be a living organ donor and contacted him.