Allen Wolf and Bob Beiss walk in the neighborhood.
Allen Wolf and Bob Beiss walk in the neighborhood.

Allen Wolf’s selfless donation of a kidney provides the gift of life.

I’m a match!” Those were the words that started us on a life-changing journey. It started fairly inauspiciously. We were acquaintances with a couple in our neighborhood, Barb and Bob Beiss, who walked their dog past our house most days. They were friendly, we were friendly. We exchanged words about gardening, the neighborhood, their dog — the usual.  Then one day last May, that changed.

My husband, Allen, maintains the distribution list for our subdivision. That day, Barb stopped Allen and asked him to put a message out on the distribution list. Bob needed a kidney, and Barb, a marketing consultant, pulled out all the stops in her quest to find a living donor for him. Allen sent the note, asking if people would please get tested to see if they were a match for Bob.

That evening, Allen said to me, “You know, I think I’ll get tested.” Prior to that night, organ donation was not on our radar. We had the usual donor indicator on our drivers’ licenses, but becoming a living donor was something we’d never considered or even thought about.

There were two parts to getting tested, which happened simultaneously. One was to see if Allen was physically and mentally able to donate — was he healthy, were his kidneys functioning well and was he mentally prepared? The second part — was he a match for Bob? There was blood testing and tissue typing as well as crossmatching to be sure Bob didn’t have antibodies that would reject Allen’s kidney. The health and well-being of the donor is of utmost importance to the donation team, and Beaumont’s team was wonderful.

Finally, physically and mentally, Allen was evaluated as a good donor and, even though unrelated, Bob and Allen matched enough for Allen to be considered a good candidate to donate. That was my first fallacy about organ transplant laid to rest. I always believed that unless you were closely related, your chances of matching with someone were slim. Not so. And even if you don’t match with the specific person to whom you’re trying to donate, through a process call Kidney Paired Donation or Paired Exchange, a round robin can be created so that you donate to someone else, which ultimately results in your recipient getting an organ.

The next step was talking to our kids, just to let them know the plan. Both Rivka and Daniel couldn’t have been more supportive and in awe, as was I, at what Allen was doing.

Bob Beiss and donor Allen Wolf after surgery
Bob Beiss and donor Allen Wolf after surgery

The surgery was planned and delayed a few times, but finally, on Jan. 25, Allen was wheeled into surgery. Daniel drove in from Boston to help, and we waited at Beaumont for almost the whole day for Allen to be in recovery. We weren’t overly worried. Kidney donation is a common procedure that’s been done for more than 60 years, and we knew the Beaumont team was excellent. Around 3 p.m., we finally saw our very groggy, but happy hero.

Bob’s surgery also went well and, after the first day, Bob and Allen were on the same floor and visited back and forth with Barb and me. The change in Bob almost immediately was dramatic.

“I just don’t know how to put into words how much gratitude I have for the gift you gave me,” Bob told Allen. “Because of you, I’m standing here today.”

Barb added, “To think that someone checked into the hospital this week to give my husband a kidney … well, that’s just overwhelming. I’ve got my husband back, thanks to your generosity!”  Barb added.

As for Allen, it’s been two months and he’s completely back to normal. I’d like to say, “Back to his old cantankerous self,” but that wouldn’t be true. It’s hard to look at this wonderful man I married without thinking that he saved a life. Not many of us can say that.

Mandy Garver and Allen Wolf , Bob and Beiss forged new bonds through the organ donation experience.
Mandy Garver and Allen Wolf , Bob and Beiss forged new bonds through the organ donation experience. Photo by lians |

“It’s part of our Jewish tradition,” Allen said. “‘Whoever saves a life, it’s considered as if he saved an entire world.’ How could I refuse an opportunity to make a small sacrifice that would save someone else’s life?”

Bob and Allen walk regularly together now in the neighborhood and are bound in ways that most of us can’t understand.

Another fallacy I had concerning organ donation was that Orthodox Jews don’t believe in organ donation because, according to Jewish law, a Jew is to be buried as he was born — complete with all his limbs and organs, sacred in death as in life. Halachic authorities point out that pikuach nefesh, saving a life, is the supreme Jewish value and takes precedence over almost every other mitzvah or religious act and overrides the concern for being buried whole.

I’m taking a fascinating class from Rabbi Schneur Silberberg at Bais Chabad Torah Center on medical ethics, and the unit on organ donation reinforced this principle. Also, Barb sent me information on Mendy Reiner, an ultra-Orthodox Jew who founded Renewal, an organization dedicated to finding kidney donors in the Orthodox community and has been very successful at doing so.

While there are about 6,000 living donations in the U.S. annually, more than 123,000 Americans are on the national transplant waiting list, and one person is added every 10 minutes. Also, chillingly, 18-22 people in the U.S. die while waiting for an organ donation every day.

As Allen asked, “Is two weeks of a little discomfort too much to ask to save a life?”  Neither he nor I think so.

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