The gift that kept on giving

Almost 18 years ago, my late husband Fred and I were sitting in a popular eatery in Pittsburgh, enjoying, over breakfast a place famed for its pancakes, the kind of in-person conversations we could seldom have with my cousins Donna and Jack, when Jack’s buzzer went off. It was the call he’d been waiting for, hoping for: Head to the hospital! We are ready for you! We abandoned our pancakes, said a quick and hopeful prayer together, and waved goodbye as Donna pushed Jack’s wheelchair outside and into their waiting van. That day, he received the donor kidney and pancreas that sustained him until his death this past week.
Everyone has a story. Anyone who has needed and received such a gift from someone else has a special story: that of a new life. After that day, freed from the shackles of dialysis, Jack went 100% into his, with Donna beside him all the way: They immediately became transplant advocates, and this is the tale of what happened afterward…
“Jack made it his mission to promote organ donation,” Donna wrote in his obituary. And she followed with details: With her dynamic support, he became co-founder of a new organization, the Western Pennsylvania Kidney Support Groups. He was an active volunteer with CORE, the Center for Organ Recovery and Education, and also volunteered in the transplant centers of two major area hospitals. He was part of a local team that rallied and marched to raise awareness and funds for the cause, and the two traveled far outside their home area to “show and tell” how organ transplants can provide new, productive lives. Jack’s efforts were recognized publicly with the National Kidney Foundation’s “Making Lives Better” award, presented at the 2010 Transplant Games in Wisconsin. At home, he received his city’s “Small Hands, Big Heart” award and his County Medical Society’s Community Organization Award, among many others. But there is still much more to Jack’s story…
The organs he received were those of a young man who died in a motorcycle accident. The donor’s family lived nearby, and the friendship that Jack and Donna forged with the parents and siblings of Jordan Fitzwater will not end with Jack’s passing. Neither did Jack’s own life end with his death: After some 17-plus productive years, he became a tissue, skin, bone and cornea donor himself.
All of us are now complaining because everything has become so differently difficult in this time of COVID-19. But not Donna, because daughter and son-in-law Lynne and Shmulik Gazit and their children Asaf David and Yael Chaya of Tel Mond, Israel, used today’s technical miracles to bid their last loving farewells in “virtual” person!
Jack was born 73 years ago in a displaced persons camp in Feldafing, Germany, to Pearl and Moses Silverstein; a sister he never knew had died at age 8 in the Kovno Concentration Camp. He and his parents were among the last immigrants to arrive in the United States through Ellis Island. So this is his real story: a child of survivors who had already lost a child, a man who needed the supreme help of another — the last gifts a person can ever make — to keep his own life alive long enough for him to return the help that can only be given by people who want to give it, who decide in advance, while their own health is good, to make their final gifts to others. In death, Jack gave his own tissue, bone, skin and corneas to the cause.
In writing his obituary, cousin Donna thanked all who had helped Jack on his journey, most especially the family which had literally gifted him with 17-plus years of additional life, and suggested organizations to which especially meaningful contributions might be made in his memory. But her final statement was this: “The greatest honor that can be accorded to Jack is to register as an organ donor.” Good words to remember.

This Post Has One Comment

  1. Lynne

    Beautiful Harriet!

    Much love,
    Lynne (in Israel :-) )

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