Jeffrey Hyman says he isn’t the sort of guy who “just sits by and lets things happen.”
Which is good, because the 65-year-old Cherry Hill businessman badly needs a new kidney.
So he’s trying to find a live donor, rather than waiting for months or even years to be matched with a kidney harvested from a cadaver -- although he’s on two different regional waiting lists for one of those as well.
A kidney donated by a living person can last twice as long. And should Hyman find a live donor, even one who turns out to be incompatible, the pair can be entered into a system such as the National Kidney Registry.
Both members of this “paired exchange” are then eligible to be matched, as a pair, with another donor and recipient pair, of which there are thousands nationally.
“It’s a very, very intensive search,” says Hyman, who’s searching (and researching) while running a residential cleaning company in Hammonton with 25 employees, and coping with a debilitating illness.
“You have to be prepared for disappointment” while seeking a live donor, he says.
“Some people don’t want to talk to you at all. Even friends and relatives.”
Hyman’s sister, Harriet Fyndysz, was ready to be a donor and had flown from Israel to Philadelphia for the procedure. But her kidney was found to be unsuitable.
According to the National Kidney Foundation’s website, about 100,000 Americans are awaiting a kidney transplant. But annually, fewer than 20,000 transplants are performed; daily, 13 people die while awaiting the lifesaving procedure.
Chronic kidney disease is often linked to heredity and is something of a silent killer; Hyman already was in the end stages when a routine blood test led to his diagnosis last September.
“They told me, 'You need a new kidney,' ” he recalls. “I started to cry.”
Then he got to work.
“There’s no book about how to find a live donor,” Hyman notes. “I’m doing a whole lot of emailing to family and friends, not asking them directly, ‘Give me your kidney,’ but asking them to broadcast my message through their networks.
“I’ve done extensive posting on Facebook and LinkedIn, linking to articles about why there’s a need for kidneys, and what happens when you donate.”
Hyman is on waiting lists for a cadaver kidney at Lourdes Health System in Camden and at Jefferson Health, in Philadelphia. Transplant professionals at both agree that the search for a live donor can be challenging, but well worth the effort.
“Live donation is very safe for healthy individuals,” says Janine Vallen, R.N., the living-donor coordinator for the Our Lady of Lourdes Transplant Center in Camden. Lourdes performs between 45 and 50 kidney transplants annually; fewer than a third of them involve a live donor.
A live donor “also allows a deceased donor’s kidney to become available for someone else,” Vallen notes.
“We urge people to have a live-donor champion -- someone who will advocate on their behalf,” says Kristi Caldararo, associate administrator of the Jefferson Transplant Institute, where about 25 of the average 100 annual kidney transplants involve a live donor.
“We help the champion with writing blog posts, working with alumni associations or churches, and with social media, which is a great tool to get the word out,” adds Caldararo.
Hyman’s chief advocate is his wife of 28 years, Mount Laurel psychotherapist Elaine Hyman, 71. Her age made her ineligible as a donor for her husband, but she’s spreading the word on Facebook and in everyday conversations.
“I’m not carrying a sign, but anyone I talk to, when they ask how Jeff is doing, I tell them about becoming a donor,” she says, noting that many people are reluctant to donate while alive -- and even less inclined to make a donation to someone they don’t know.
Her husband, whose condition has progressed to the point where he must begin dialysis soon, is nothing if not determined, she says.
“Jeff and I question everything, read everything, discuss everything. And if someone says something can’t be done, we ask, ‘Why not?’ ”
Persons wishing to discuss donating a live kidney on behalf of Jeffrey Hyman can call the transplant program at Lourdes (856-796-9375) or Jefferson (215-503-3378).