The Langwald family. Andy is in the middle.
The Langwald family. Andy is in the middle. (Langwald family)

“How can you thank someone like that?” he asks.

Andy Langwald was in need of a kidney donor when he found an unexpected match on Facebook.

The 53-year-old West Bloomfield man, who had developed kidney failure at the age of 12 and received a kidney from his mother, Annette Langwald-Kozin, a perfect match, now had a blockage in his ureter that was causing health concerns. He was told by his doctors, after a round of unsuccessful procedures to fix the issue, that it would eventually cause his kidneys to no longer work.

His brother Michael and sister Sheri both tested as perfect matches to donate a kidney. Sheri would be the one to make the donation, the family decided. The Langwalds were ecstatic at the idea, then faced a devastating blow: about a week before the transplant was scheduled, Andy Langwald was diagnosed with colon cancer.

The transplant would have to wait, doctors advised, until the cancer was removed, and his body had healed. But while waiting, his sister developed a health condition that would rule her out as a potential donor. Then his brother was also rejected for a medical reason. Langwald now had no prospective donors and didn’t want to be put on an organ transplant waiting list, which can see people waiting upwards of five-10 years for the right match.

“I hadn’t started kidney dialysis yet, and that was my biggest fear,” Langwald said. “As a kid, I hated every second. It was a nightmare.”

He was in bad shape between his earlier dialysis hospital stays. The idea of potentially facing that experience again was terrifying to Langwald and his family, who had been by his side to help him through medical stays, often sleeping in his hospital room so he wouldn’t be alone.

“Two live donors who are perfect matches — the odds of that are astronomical,” Langwald said. He grappled with the issue of what to do next. Then his mother Annette had what he called “the most amazing idea” and turned to social media.

“I’m just going to put something out there,” she told her son.

Langwald, who didn’t use Facebook, was skeptical at first. His mother wanted to write a post to see if anyone in her network would be interested in being tested as a potential match or knew of anyone who would try. She wrote about Langwald’s journey and shared it publicly.

Distant Cousin Volunteers

First came an offer from Langwald’s stepfather’s son. But it was an offer from a distant cousin, Jenni Newman Rockoff, who lived in Tucson, Ariz., that changed Langwald’s life forever.

“The last time I spoke to her was when we were students at Hillel,” Langwald recalls. Ironically, a year before his mother posted about the need for a donor, Rockoff had sent her a friend request. She responded immediately and offered to be tested as a match for Langwald when she realized she had the same blood type.

Even though Rockoff had children, was married and had a career in front of her, she put everything on hold to undergo testing. “She had a whole life,” Langwald said, “and this woman stepped up.” Rockoff turned out to be a perfect match and the donation was scheduled. She flew to Michigan, quarantined for two weeks due to COVID and underwent surgery to donate a kidney. The Langwalds took care of her accommodations and set her up with an apartment in West Bloomfield during her stay.

Langwald had his transplant and is currently on the road to recovery. He hopes to soon be able to travel to his favorite destination, Boca Raton, Fla. “She gave me my life back,” he said. “She was virtually a stranger in the sense that I hadn’t talked to her in forever, and she was willing to do this.”

While Rockoff faced initial pain and discomfort after the surgery, she is also doing well and recovering. Now, Langwald’s mother and Rockoff talk almost every day and have a new friendship born from the gift.

“It was a miracle,” Annette Langwald-Kozin said. “She gave up a month of her life for this. She canceled her family’s vacation. She just made up her mind that she was going to do this.”

To the Langwalds, Rockoff is “an angel” who was set on saving Andy’s life. “How can you thank someone like that?” he says. “I’m very blessed.”