Thursday, June 4, 2020 -
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One out of 87,000: Rachel Greig needs a kidney

Rachel GreigLONGMONT — When the time came, and she could wait no longer, Rachel Greig asked close friends and family for help. Now the Longmont resident has broadened her appeal to the Jewish community and the community at large.

Greig, 51, needs a kidney and eventually a pancreas.

She has been listed on the organ donor transplant list for nearly a year, but a suitable donor has not been identified. A kidney from a live donor has a higher chance of transplantation success, she says.

“What do people do when they have stage 4 cancer?” Greig asks. “I just thank G-d there is a treatment [for failing kidneys].”

Greig, who was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at age 4, had hoped to undergo a kidney transplant to avoid dialysis, a mechanical method of removing toxins and excess fluid.

Blood tests over the last 12 years revealed her kidneys’ functions were diminishing and now doctors say she can no longer postpone the treatment.

She will begin daily peritoneal dialysis in January at home, a method that uses the abdominal membrane as a filter.

Greig hopes the dialysis will prolong her life until a suitable donor is identified.

The average life expectancy of those undergoing dialysis therapy is four years although many survive as long as 25 years, according to MDGuidelines.

More than 110,200 people nationwide are on the transplant wait list, according to the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network.

Of those, more than 87,000 are waiting for kidneys.

Greig and her husband do not have children, and biological children usually are the best chance of a donor match. She says a live donor could donate a kidney to her; a deceased donor could donate a kidney and a pancreas, which would make her no longer insulin dependent.

For the last three years Greig has used a pump to continuously deliver insulin, which controls her blood sugar more consistently than the old method of one, and more recently two, insulin shots per day.

“If I had a pump as a child, I probably wouldn’t be faced with needing [a kidney transplant] right now,” she says.

About a year ago, Greig sent emails to close friends and family members about her medical situation. Her sister and husband were tested, but neither were able to donate.

A second e-mail went out this past summer, this time to a wider circle of friends.

Subsequently, she sent a third e-mail to people she knew less well. She says that Porter Hospital has handled some requests to test potential donors, but she does not know how many.

“I certainly understand people’s hesitations,” Greig says. “I have had friends say to me, ‘I am struggling with that decision.’  I am sure I would struggle with it, too.”

WHETHER to donate an organ is also a question that has been tackled by the Jewish community.

Rabbi Deborah Bronstein of Boulder’s Har HaShem forwarded her e-mail from Greig to all of her synagogue’s members.

Bronstein says there is a misconception among Jews that Jewish law forbids organ donation due to the principle of kevod ha-met, treating the body (ultimately the body of a dead person) with dignity.

Instead, the overarching principle is that Jews should follow the obligation known as piku’ach nefesh, the obligation to save the life of one’s fellow human being. In addition, Jews are taught, “You shall not stand idly by the blood of your neighbor” (Lev. 19:16).

She adds that the great medieval Torah scholar, Maimonides, explained this mitzvah as follows: “Anyone who is able to save a life, but fails to do so, violates ‘You shall not stand idly by the blood of your neighbor.’”

Forty-two years ago, the Reform movement affirmed that Jews should step forth as donors.

Although Judaism requires Jews to be buried with their bodies intact, the Union of Reform Judaism makes a distinction in the case of donating organs and tissues to save a life.

In 1997, the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism adopted a resolution encouraging Jews to become organ and tissue donors.

The resolution is based on the premise that consideration for the health and welfare of others is at the heart of Jewish ethics, the organization said.

Orthodox Jews agree that organ donations from live donors are a great mitzvah, said Rabbi Yakov Borenstein of Chabad of Longmont.

But after death, there is disagreement within Orthodox Judaism whether Halachah permits such donations because of the mitzvah of keeping the body intact, and because there is a disagreement among Orthodox rabbis as to when a person is considered dead, such as in cases when donating patients are hooked to ventilators.

There is a disagreement among leading Orthodox scholars as to whether it is permissible to donate after death. An Orthodox Jew who would like to donate organs should talk to a competent Orthodox rabbi, Rabbi Borenstein says.

“Each case needs to be considered individually,” he says.

GREIG needs type O organs. Those with other blood types interested in becoming a donor can participate through the “paired exchange” program.

In paired exchange, an incompatible donor-recipient pair is matched with another incompatible donor-recipient pair for a “swap.” Each donor gives a kidney to the other person’s intended recipient.

The surgery for most donors can be done laparoscopically, which is less invasive and involves shorter recovery time, usually four to six weeks.

Greig’s insurance will pay for the donor evaluation, surgery and post-operative care. Lost wages and travel expenses are not paid by insurance, but donors may be eligible for sick leave.

Greig’s family would be willing to discuss financial help.

Greig doesn’t know what she will say whether a donor comes forward.

“I’ll have to make up a new word that’s like thank you a million times,” Greig said.

Those who want to be evaluated as a possible donor should contact Jill Douglas with Porter Hospital Transplant Services at (303) 778-5797 or 1 (888) 872-8891.

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