| Between Brothers |

Perfect Match

I was thrilled that my brother wouldn’t have to wait for a kidney, but I was also terrified


My older brother Mendy has always been my best friend. Sure, we fought a lot when we were kids (once, my mother even left us at the side of the road to teach us a lesson when we wouldn’t stop fighting in the car), but I’ve always known that Mendy was there for me. We’ve been through a lot together — we lost our biological father when we were very young, we moved from Brazil (where we only spoke Yiddish and Portuguese) to the United States when our mother remarried, and together we faced our mother’s bout with cancer. Through it all, I always had my brother to lean on.

In 1996, Mendy got married, and was soon the proud father of twin boys. But a few years later, Mendy began to feel unwell. Medical tests revealed a double shock: Not only had Mendy been born with only one kidney, but his kidney function had deteriorated so badly that he would need a transplant.

The news shook us. Our biological father had undergone two failed kidney transplants and ultimately passed away from complications. My mother had donated a kidney to our biological father and so was unable to donate one to Mendy (although she begged the doctors to let her go on dialysis and take her remaining kidney). But I was a perfect match. There are six criteria used to determine a donor’s eligibility, and I was six for six.

I was thrilled that my brother wouldn’t have to wait for a kidney, but I was also terrified. By the time my father had gone into the hospital, it was too late to biopsy his kidney, so no one ever knew exactly what his diagnosis was; now my brother seemed to have the same issues. What if the mysterious kidney condition was genetic? What if I gave Mendy my kidney and then I needed a kidney one day? Ultimately, the decision was taken out of my hands — the transplant team, knowing that Mendy would likely need another transplant in his lifetime, preferred to find another donor now and keep me “in reserve.” My maternal uncle was tested and was found to be a sufficient match.

Baruch Hashem, the surgery was successful. Mendy and I spent the next 20 years joking that I was “on deck” for the next transplant. In fact, the very first thing I told my wife when we met was that I was going to give my kidney to my brother should he ever need one. Coming from a close-knit family herself, she was very supportive, and since my brother was doing well, we both put the thought out of our heads. (Okay, she put it out of her head; I thought about it often.)

In February of 2020, Mendy called me and asked if he and his wife could come over and talk to us.

My heart dropped. “Is it about the kidney?”

“We’ll talk when we come over,” he said evasively.

They told us that Mendy would probably need a second kidney transplant within a few months, and it was time to start the pre-surgical testing process. Anyone who knows me knows that when it comes to medical procedures, my anxiety level is through the roof, so from the minute my brother told me the news, I was a wreck. I was worried about him, worried about the surgery, worried about my family, my mother and father… You name it, I stressed over it. We cancelled our plans to go away for Pesach and focused on getting all of our pre-op tests and blood work done. We anticipated having the surgery before or immediately after Pesach.

Then COVID turned the world, and specifically the medical industry, upside down. Kidney transplants were not considered “essential,” and Mendy’s surgery was cancelled. We had the donor (me) all lined up, all of our testing and paperwork submitted, but we were helpless to proceed. Mendy went into renal failure and had to go on dialysis.

For me, that was the hardest part. I watched my brother’s condition deteriorate and saw how weak and frail he became. Knowing he had to travel to and from the dialysis center three times a week during the pandemic, and not being able to go with him and support him, was torture for me. But all we could do was wait.

Finally, in the beginning of June, we were notified that the surgery could be scheduled. We took the first available date — June 18th. It was not lost on me that 18 is “chai,” and I took it as a sign from Hashem that everything would be all right.

Only patients were allowed into the hospital, so we went in for surgery alone.

As the donor, I was prepped first. Once my surgery was underway, Mendy would be prepped to receive my kidney. They brought me into a room to begin the process and allowed Mendy to stay behind the curtain so we could be together a little longer.

A tech approached me to insert an IV. I looked at the needle and felt faint.

“Hey, buddy, you okay?”

I couldn’t respond.

“Blood pressure dropping!” called the nurse. A bunch of nurses ran into the room. They laid me down on the table and told me to breathe deeply.

Mendy came around the curtain. He looked at me. I looked at him. We both started to laugh. He had survived kidney failure, undergone a transplant, and had been on dialysis for months — and I was passing out at the sight of a needle!

Thank G-d, the transplant was a success.

After so many years of talking about it, it’s hard to believe I really did it, but I am so glad and so grateful that I did. My recovery was painful, and it took a few months before I felt back to myself. But it was worth it to see my brother alive and healthy. To save any life is an incredible mitzvah, but to have been able to save my brother’s life is an indescribable feeling. As I like to tell my wife, “You and I may be married, but Mendy and I are a perfect match!”

A few days after the transplant, Mendy’s boys called. The twins are grown up and in college now. They are also best friends and have always been close. They called to say, “Thank you for saving our father’s life.”

It reminded me of two other brothers, so long ago, who had lost their own father to kidney disease. I am so grateful to have been able to give my brother the gift of life.


David Jesselson is an accountant based in Cedarhurst, New York.

(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 854)

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