Renewal kidney donor swabbing event Jan. 28
Photo: Haley DeWeerd
From left, Susanne Rosenhouse, Ellen Bock, Linda Blasnik, Michael Graubard and (not pictured) Brian Goldenberg and Tracey Messerly hope prospective donors will be found at the Jan. 28, 2024, swabbing event starting at 10 a.m. at the Aaron Family JCC.

By Deb Silverthorn

The public is invited to an educational presentation, “Anatomy of Kindness,” and swabbing drive from 10 a.m. to noon, Sunday, Jan. 28, at the Aaron Family JCC. The event is directed by Renewal in the hope of providing healing and kidney transplants for six area residents in need. Breakfast will be served; activities for children will be provided by PJ Library.

Renewal is a 501(c)3 organization founded in 2006 and based in Brooklyn, New York. In 2023 alone, Renewal tested more than 3000 people at 34 swabbing drives and facilitated 133 successful kidney transplants.

Pikuach nefesh, saving a life, overrides virtually any other religious rule of Judaism. As Jews, helping others is an intrinsic value of who we are and what we must do,” said Karen Schlosberg, who is coordinating the event to support Linda Blasnik, Ellen Bock, Brian Goldenberg, Michael Graubard, Tracey Messerly and Susanne Rosenhouse — each of whom has a medical condition that requires them to receive a kidney transplant.

“We’re stronger together and bringing together each of these very special people’s networks raises the law of averages to successfully find donors,” she said.

Prospective donors must be between the ages of 21 and 80, have a BMI of less than 35 and no history of diabetes. At the Jan. 28 event, a sample will be provided by swabbing the cheek. If there is a match, a more extensive evaluation process follows.

“We use the most sophisticated level of testing to connect the matches and then we support the donor in every way, through the testing but also the day of the transplant and whatever the needs moving forward,” said Rabbi Josh Sturm, Renewal’s director of outreach. “We’ve already begun searching for matches for each of our ‘Dallas six.’

“Donors must be treated like the heroes they are,” said Sturm, who will speak at Congregation Ohev Shalom on Shabbat before the event, as will another Renewal team member at Congregation Shaare Tefilla.

Linda Blasnik, who for nearly 15 years has served as a librarian of the JCC’s Tycher Library, would prefer to stay out of the spotlight. In this moment, she realizes sharing her story is necessary.

“I need a kidney — it’s that simple — and I need it soon,” she said. The wife of Steve, mother of two and grandmother of one wants to get back to worrying about her family and new books rather than testing and results.

“I’ve had kidney issues for a while but now, my doctors say it’s time,” said Blasnik, a member of congregations Ohr HaTorah, Shaare Tefilla and Tiferet Israel. “Everything up in the air is pretty disconcerting, so I really appreciate everyone’s concern and efforts to help us.”

Ellen Bock, who works at the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas, says her thrice-weekly dialysis treatments since last August are something she’ll gladly relinquish if and when a donor is found.

“Going through every aspect of kidney disease is an ordeal and it takes a huge toll. We’re all going through it,” said the Dallas native, mother of two and grandmother of one, Hillcrest High School graduate and lifelong member of Temple Emanu-El. “Karen is a godsend for putting this together and the mitzvah is multiplied by six.”

Brian Goldenberg is married to Goldie. The father of four, grandfather of one and member of Congregation Ohev Shalom began dialysis last September.

“It’s very touching that so many people are coming together. This is an amazing community and I can’t be thankful enough,” said Goldenberg, who with his wife owns SecureTech Systems. “It’s difficult being held back and knowing the only way to get healthy is through someone else.”

Michael Graubard is married to Lisa Carren-Graubard, whom he met at a Jewish singles event at Camp Young Judaea 37 years ago. He is the father of two, grandfather of one and longtime Temple Emanu-El member. Graubard has been on dialysis since late summer and knows his odds of finding a donor increase through this effort.

“We didn’t know the other patients before, but our hearts are praying for a match for all six, including my husband,” said Graubard’s wife. “We can’t say enough about how important this is. The blessing of coming together is very special.”

For Tracey Messerly, the wife of Steve, it is the second transplant she is hoping for, a second chance at the gift of life. She has polycystic kidney disease — the genetic illness that claimed the lives of her father, an aunt, uncle and cousins. Other family members are battling the disease as well. For more than a decade she has traveled the path of illness, dialysis, transplantation and rejection.

“Three years ago, I had a pancreatitis attack that landed me in the hospital. My lungs collapsed and Dr. (Allan) Shulkin saved my life. He put me in a coma for three months and then I spent another five months hospitalized,” said Messerly. “My first donor was a cadaver donor. The team believes that now a living donor would be more successful for me. I’m grateful for this opportunity through Renewal to connect and hopeful for a positive outcome for each of us.”

Susanne Rosenhouse, married to Evan and the mother of two, has the same rare kidney disease that her father, Dr. Harvey Goldstone, suffered from before his transplant six years ago.

“It’s been a long road and friends always ask what they can do. They’re coming through spreading the word about this event and two others that friends have arranged on the East Coast,” said Rosenhouse, social media coordinator for the National Jewish Outreach Program; her family belongs to Congregation Ohev Shalom. “There is all but zero chance we need the same donor, so I am grateful that each of our networks will be coming together.”

The six in need will each be listed with the United Network for Organ Sharing through the Dallas-area hospitals where their prospective transplants would take place. With UNOS reporting close to 93,000 prospective recipients awaiting a transplant, the average wait time is four months to six years, but it can be longer.

Dr. Lloyd E. Ratner, director of renal and pancreatic transplantation at New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University, is one of many doctors with whom Renewal has worked.

“The recipient is best served and will do better with a live kidney versus a cadaver kidney or staying on dialysis. In general, people live twice as long with a transplant than they would staying on dialysis.”

Ratner explained that with a live donor, recipients generally do not have to be on a waiting list and may be able to receive a transplant before they ever require dialysis. He added, “There is also usually less risk for complications and rejection and the results for long-term success are greater.”

Renewal not only provides education and support, but the nonprofit offers reimbursement to the donor for expenses such as loss of wages, travel and other needs. If a donor is found by Renewal from elsewhere in the country, that donor would come to Dallas for the procedure.

Hosting the swabbing event at the J is natural, says Laura Seymour, the J’s camp director emeritus, Jewish experiential learning director and TJP columnist. “As the place where the Jewish community comes together, the J is always thrilled to be part of important projects. If people can join us to learn and share and just do a simple swab, lives can be changed. What better project to support for our entire community?”

“To save one life is to save the world,” says the Talmud. To save six, how much more so.

To register to be swabbed, contact karendschlosberg@gmail.com. For more information about Renewal, visit Renewal.org or email jsturm@renewal.org.

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