Jonathan Mafrice said he is honoring the ethical obligation of pikuach nefesh, saving a human life, for both his mother and others in the same situation.
A few weeks ago, we celebrated Mother’s Day with flowers, family and fun. But one son is giving his mother the greatest gift: searching for a kidney donor to help save her life.
Jonathan Mafrice, 45, of Los Angeles, grew up in Bloomfield Hills, where he and his family attended Temple Israel. He graduated from Michigan State University and, after working in advertising, started a company that invented the first sound-embedded video game chair. He sold his business and moved to California, recently returning to Michigan to spearhead the kidney search.
About three years ago, his mother, former teacher and businesswoman Daryle Roth, 73, of West Bloomfield, was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease that attacked her kidneys. In the last few months, her kidney function has rapidly declined and she faces dialysis. The average wait time for a deceased donor kidney is two to five years, so now the family is desperately searching for a living transplant donor.
Mafrice wanted to donate himself, but that wasn’t a viable option.
“In 2005, I was diagnosed with severe aplastic anemia, a condition in which your immune system attacks your bone marrow, preventing it from producing new blood cells,” Mafrice said. “I spent over two years in and out of hospitals, receiving weekly blood transfusions. My mom was there for me … now it’s my turn to help her battle with kidney disease.”
After finding out no close relative was a match — including younger brother and father of two, Daniel, and his uncle — Mafrice had to expand his search, which includes talking with friends and strangers, as well as using Facebook, a helpful platform for connecting with those most likely to help. It’s become a daily task to keep the conversation going, he said.
“Asking someone to donate isn’t an easy process. First, you have to tell everyone you know someone is sick and ask for help. Second, most people don’t know about living donations, so I educate them about becoming a donor or considering a living donation. Third, you need to find someone willing to do a completely selfless act, even for someone they don’t know.”
Helping a Stranger
Through Facebook, Mafrice connected with a friend, Joanna Sanborn, who did just the same thing: became a living donor for a friend of her mother.
“My mom said her friend Alfred Klein had a potentially fatal kidney disease, and his sister Fran was leading the fight to save Alfie’s life,” Sanborn said. “I have a sister and knew the desperation I would feel if I was in Fran’s position.”
After undergoing blood draws to see if she was a match (in fact, she’s a universal donor), doing research on everything related to donation and consulting several doctors, all of whom were supportive, she decided to proceed.
“I found surprises around every corner,” she said, “learning the ways kidneys function and how many lives have been saved by donating. I found myself part of a nurturing, supportive community, in which I remain involved. Alfie’s body greeted my kidney with ‘open arms’ and he’s doing wonderfully today! If I could do it all over again, without hesitation, I would.”
Like his friend, Mafrice has learned much during his search. “Kidneys are easier to match than other organs, and matching isn’t specific to blood type, age, race or gender,” he said. “Donors are carefully screened to ensure they’re healthy enough to donate and can live normal lives with one kidney. I’ve spoken with several donors, and each one says it was the most rewarding experience of their life.”
Mafrice said he is honoring the ethical obligation of pikuach nefesh, saving a human life, for both his mother and others in the same situation.
“In our donor search, we’re raising awareness for everyone in need of organ transplant. We’re asking members of the Jewish community, which has always offered support to my family, to help us in this mitzvah. Many people are in need of a kidney right now. While it only takes one donor to save my mom, hopefully we can inspire others to donate as well.
“My mother wants to live a normal life, free from dialysis,” Mafrice added. “She wants to watch her granddaughter dance and grandson play baseball. She would be grateful for a powerful and selfless gesture from anyone willing to donate.”