When doctors gave Bob Beliak a diagnosis of kidney disease, his life became a race between the disease’s progression and a long-term medical solution. He and his wife, Marci, were still processing the news while searching for the best possible option.
“I couldn’t believe I had these problems,” Bob said. “But even then, I didn’t think it would ever come to this point where I would need a transplant.”
In a May 23 essay for the Jewish News, Beliak wrote about life with 9% kidney function. He talked of the other 100,000 people waiting for a deceased donor kidney. He was candid about his fears of soon being on dialysis, and about the difficulty of receiving a kidney from a live donor, which would improve his chances of a successful outcome.
When her husband was told that he needed a transplant, Marci offered to donate a kidney, but the doctor advised against it due to Marci’s health issues. Bob’s son also stepped forward to donate, but he wasn’t a match.
As much as they hoped for help, they also thought that sharing their story might educate the community.
“Selfishly, we want to find a viable live donor kidney for Bob, but we hope that bringing light to his situation will ultimately help others who are in need of organ donation,” Marci said.
Prior to writing the piece, the two had been private about Bob’s kidney disease. But they decided to get more public about their journey when he reached stage 5. The Beliaks also used social media to share their story. Since then, they’ve been approached by people who registered to be living donors as a result.
“We are so grateful for this unselfish act,” Bob said. “Many people have offered their prayers and good wishes and promised to share the story.”
There is a rich history of organ donation in the Jewish community, as it fulfills the mitzvah of pikuach nefesh (saving a life) — something that Rabbi Dr. Shmuly Yanklowitz, president and dean of Valley Beit Midrash, knows something about. In 2015, Yanklowitz donated one of his kidneys to an Israeli named Yossi Azran. Although the two had never met, Yanklowitz was honored to help him. The two still keep in touch, in fact.
“The experience gave me a whole new perspective on my life, in the sense that we gain so much more when we give,” Yanklowitz said. “I really came to believe that God had put that kidney inside of me for someone else, not for me.”
Contrary to popular belief, Yanklowitz said, kidney donation is not so high-risk nor is the pain unmanageable, and he is willing to be a resource for people who are interested in learning more about it. He also recommended the Halachic Organ Donor Society and the organization Renewal, which helps families navigate the kidney transplant process.
Another Valley-area rabbi, who wished to remain anonymous, also donated a kidney. One of the members in his congregation was facing dialysis so the rabbi reached out to the community to see if people could help. The first volunteer wasn’t a match, so the rabbi asked himself, “Why not me?”
He sought help from Renewal, which provided peer support, medical advice and follow-up care.
“When I began considering my own donation, I did a small amount of research about the heath risks — which seemed minor — and I asked my wife and mother for their blessings,” the rabbi said. “To be sure, the first two days after surgery were tough, but I felt 90% better just seven days later. I was near 100% by four weeks. It has always felt like a small price to pay to help someone else get their life back.”
Although Bob Beliak says that it has been hard to remain positive and hopeful, he has received great support from Marci and his family.
“It is not a death sentence,” Marci said. “We are being told there is something that can be done to improve and prolong Bob’s life, and we have faith that a match will be found.” JN
For more information on becoming a live donor, contact Mayo Hospital at 480-342-1010 or at mayoclinic.org/livingdonor
Bob Beliak, far right, at a recent event with his family.
Photo courtesy of Bob Beliak