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Chaya Lipshutz

Chaya Lipshutz

The Kidney Matchmaker

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A determined woman from Brooklyn is a dedicated matchmaker, but her matches can take an unusual, formidable amount of encouragement and legwork to pull off.

No, she’s not like the infamous matchmaker Yenta from Fiddler on the Roof. While Yenta was known to smooth over defects—“He’s handsome! He’s tall! . . . that is, from side to side!” there’s no room for bluff or poetic license with Chaya’s matches. Chaya’s efforts, in fact, will come to fruition only after thorough and exacting examination.

Chaya Lipshutz is busy day and night, bringing people together. She feels her matches are bashert, or destined, meant to be. But she doesn’t ask the typical matchmaker questions, such as height, hobbies, profession. Instead, Chaya will inquire about her client’s blood type and health history.

Chaya does not bring people together for marriage, but to save livesChaya does not bring people together for marriage, but to save lives. Her couples will not meet under the chuppah, but in the operating room.

Chaya is known throughout the world as the uniquely dedicated, unstoppable Kidney Matchmaker.

A friendly, gregarious young woman from Borough Park, Brooklyn, Chaya has grown what started as a fairly casual response to an ad some eight years ago into unending volunteer work, ’round the clock, from her small Brooklyn apartment. Her main work tools are the Internet, phone, and passionate focus. She receives and sends calls and e-mails from all over the globe, and posts on various websites and Yahoo groups, using many resources to make her precious matches—matching a living kidney donor with a person in need of a kidney transplant to survive.

Sometimes a life mission seems to find us, or we grow into it, step by step. Chaya did not declare, “I want to be a kidney matchmaker when I grow up.” It all started rather simply.

“Back in 2003 or so, I once overheard someone crying, because her husband needed an organ transplant and couldn’t get one.

“The following year I noticed an ad asking for a kidney donation. It said, ‘Help save a life—fulfill a once-in-a-lifetime mitzvah—modern, fast, easy process for donors.’ That sounded pretty dramatic. ‘Wow,’ I thought, ‘how many opportunities would I have do be able to a once-in-a-lifetime mitzvah . . . and to save a life too!’ I remembered the crying woman, and decided to look into the donation procedure. The ‘modern, fast, easy’ description put me at ease, at least enough to consider it.

“So I contacted the hospital, and they sent me the information. It didn’t seem like such a big deal. I wasn’t scared, and I decided I’d try to donate one of my kidneys. It takes a while to find a compatible match and for the timing to work out. After several attempts to donate that didn’t work out for various reasons, I donated a kidney in September 2005.

“Afterwards, I did have the satisfaction of my donation, but I kept seeing more ads. I wanted to do more. I felt like I hadn’t done enough. What about all these other people who needed a kidney?”

Chaya was not content to sigh and figure that someone, somewhere, somehow, would take care of this problem. She certainly had done a lot, giving up part of her body, a vital organ—a tremendous altruistic act. But she didn’t rest on her quite substantial laurels. With straight­forward determination, she took steps to do what she could.

She realized the Jewish Marketplace Expo was coming to the Jacob Javits Convention Center in Manhattan, an enormous gathering of thousands of people. Chaya remembers thinking, “I’ll have a booth, and give out flyers; a lot of people can be educated about kidney donation. True, it would be an expense, but where there’s a will, there’s a way.” New York Assemblyman Dov Hikind got wind of Chaya’s big thinking, and arranged to have thousands of her flyers printed.

Chaya has been proclaimed a Health Hero by Prevention Magazine, and was honored by Kings County District Attorney Charles HynesShe credits a previous job with giving her the basic know-how to get started. “I had worked for a Jewish nonprofit organization for many years. We occasionally hosted booths at events, which is where I got the idea.” Chaya grew up watching her mother, “who was always doing things to help, and going out of her way for people.” Chaya now devotes much of her time and energy to giving others a new lease on life.

“The expo helped build awareness, and got me going. After that experience, I handed out packets of information on kidney donation at a Chinese auction and other community events.” Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz and Assemblyman Dov Hikind featured her in their community publications. Chaya has been proclaimed a Health Hero by Prevention Magazine, and was honored by Kings County District Attorney Charles Hynes.

Things started snowballing. Someone read about Chaya, who knew someone from National Public Radio, and Chaya was featured on This American Life, an NPR show with over one and a half million listeners. This vast publicity led to a significant number of kidney donations and kidney chains.

She started posting on websites, posting flyers, working to get the word out about the need for donors. As there is no national registry for living donors, the chance of finding living donors is increased by the kind of diligent networking Chaya excels at.

Chaya is often asked: Aren’t people at greater risk if they donate, and then have only one remaining kidney? She is ready, with quotes from medical experts.

Just think. People born with only one kidney have no problems, so we have to ask, why did G‑d give us two kidneys? Perhaps it is so you would have an extra one to donate and save a life!
—Dr. Stuart Greenstein, kidney transplant surgeon, Montefiore Medical Center, Bronx, N.Y.

We are born with approximately 4–5 times the kidney function that we need, to be healthy and stay off of dialysis—to not have kidney failure. So by donating one of your kidneys, you are still left with 2–3 times the amount of kidney function that you need to be healthy and lead a normal life.
—Dr. Joseph Del Pizzo, assistant professor of urology and director of laparoscopic surgery, New York Presbyterian Hospital, Weill Cornell Medical Center, New York, N.Y.

She is quick to point out that when someone develops kidney disease, G‑d forbid, it affects both kidneys simultaneously. And, she adds, about one in 750 people are born with only kidney, and most go on to lead normal lives without even knowing this.

The extremely extensive testing done to screen donors precludes all but the most healthy from donating. As a side benefit, the testing, usually covered by the recipient’s insurance, is more thorough and exacting than many people can afford to have done on their own. Chaya relates many cases where potential donors’ lives were saved. They stepped up to do the big mitzvah of donating, and discovered health problems of their own during the screening, which led to timely intervention and treatment. “I remember one man in his twenties. One of the last tests, a CT scan on the kidneys, showed part of his lungs as well; lung cancer was detected, way before any symptoms developed. The cancer was removed, and his own life ended up being the one saved.”

I have donors thanking me afterwards. They donated a kidney, they saved a life, yet they thank me, they feel that their lives have been enrichedSometimes a close relative or friend wants to donate, but they’re not a match for their loved one in need. Then what? Chaya has been involved in helping put together kidney donors in swaps for people who have a hard time finding a match due to high antibodies. The donor in the swap gives his kidney to someone else, and in return, the person for whom he initially tested and for whom he wasn’t a match receives a kidney from someone else in the swap. Sometimes swaps can have a domino effect and turn into kidney chains.

She does warn that should one decide to donate, many friends and relatives may try to talk the giver out of it, so the potential donor needs to stock up on facts and support. Doubts, backouts—sometimes because of fear or family objections, other times because of medical issues—make the work intense. Chaya spends most of her waking hours plugging away. “Someone contacted me recently, and it was very complicated. Today we had about 25 e-mails back and forth, working through different issues.”

Rabbi Ephraim Simon, director of Chabad of Teaneck, had been reading kidney requests that Chaya posted on his community e-bulletin board for years. One day he saw one about a 12-year-old girl who needed a kidney to live. “How can I let a 12-year-old girl die?” he asked his wife. The Simons had a daughter of the same age too. He decided to answer the request, but another compatible donor had already been found. Simon ended up donating a kidney to a 51-year-old father of ten, with whom Chaya matched him up.

Rabbi Simon’s donation has had an uplifting ripple effect on his community, inspiring others to be more giving, each in their own way. He has no regrets. “If I can save a human being, and give a father of ten back to his children and a husband back to his wife, that reward outweighs the risk,” said Simon. “Every time we get in a car, we take risks. It was just an amazing experience, right up there with the birth of my nine children.”

We are born with approximately 4–5 times the kidney function that we needDonors often share Rabbi Simon’s feelings. “What really blows my mind,” Chaya says, “is that I have donors thanking me afterwards. They donated a kidney, they saved a life, yet they thank me, they feel that their lives have been enriched. And they are also grateful that I helped them through the process.”

Chaya wishes more people would consider donating, as she has not been able to help everyone. “I worry in particular about those who are on dialysis. Only 20 percent survive being on dialysis for more than 10 years. And many of that 20 percent become sicker while on dialysis, and are then ineligible for a transplant. People on my list have passed away waiting for a kidney. It’s a great heartbreak!”

Our interview ended on a telling note. Chaya got a click, just another one of many urgent calls. A day in the life of a bona fide matchmaker, with the highest-stake deals at hand.

“Sorry,” she said as she briefly clicked back to me, “I have to take this call: it’s someone in Israel I’m trying to find a donor for. I’ll call you back later.”

More information about kidney donation can be found on Chaya’s website, kidneymitzvah.com.

Miriam Karp is an award-winning writer, artist, Judaic studies teacher and lecturer. Her paintings explore intimate moments in Jewish life. Miriam lives in Cincinnati with her husband and family.
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Discussion (17)
March 26, 2012
Re: Kidney transplant for Moses Avi
Sorry to hear that your father needs a kidney! And sorry to hear about his wif'e's passing! Please e-mail me at KidneyMitzvah@aol.com. I hope he will be able to get a kidney soon! May only good things happen in your life from now on!
Chaya Lipschutz
Brooklyn, NY
March 24, 2012
Kidney transplant for Moses Avi
This story is so amazing to me that you do what best for people life I thank you very much,may you can save life of everyone in need.
Our dad is in Great need of kidney transplant
And he is looking for a match we hope he will find it very soon.
He's wife past way on 12/17/2012
He is very strong person and I pray he is going to find a match very soon G-d willing.

Can you please help him find a kidney ?
Thank you the Moses family

Thank you mrs. Chaya
Sharona
Calabasas, Ca
January 18, 2012
One living kidney donor's opinion
No one noticed all the 'living donation is safe' comments are from folks employed by transplant centers?

Living donation is NOT safe. According to OPTN, 4.4 living kidney donors die each year in the US within 12 months of surgery.

20% experience complications: hernia, nerve damage, pancreatitis, chylous ascites, adrenal dysfunction, etc.

20-30% experience depression, anxiety, and PTSD. Not a single transplant center offers aftercare or support resources.

There are no national standards of living donor evaluation, selection or treatment. Each program makes up their own rules and are accountable to no one.

There is NO data on living donors' health and well-being. In 2000, the Sec of Health mandated one year of follow up and 30% are still reported 'lost'. No trans ctr has been punished for noncompliance.

Trans recipients & bone marrow donors have a registry; why don't living donors?
living donor
copley, USA
January 12, 2012
Some hospitals kidney donors go home next day!
There are hospitals in the USA that allow people who donate a kidney to go home after 1 day!

Most people take off from work about 2 weeks. I had 2 donors from 2 kidney matches that were able to work from home a week later.

For some people recuperation can take longer. But most are not bedridden and can do most of the things they did before, soon after they come home from the hospital.
Chaya Lipschutz
Brooklyn, NY
January 12, 2012
Kidney Donor
I donated on Thursday morning and went to shul on Friday night/Shabbos day Was released from hospital after 22 hours after waking up from surgery). Only took 2 doses of tylenol and ZERO Vicodins. So I'm an example of very rapid healing. But every person is different. It also happens to be that I was in my young twenties so it's typical for the young to heal fast. If you're middle aged expect a few more days to recover.
Kidney Donor
Brooklyn, NY
chabadonwheels.com
January 11, 2012
response to Wendy
Please contact chaya, she will explain everythig. I was 4 days in hospital and 2 weeks not driving after that pretty much back to normal with subsiding minor pain.(and so much joy?) My husband/daughter did all the shopping and cooking and friends helped to. It's an opportunity for communal chesed
Marci Rapp, MarSea Modest Swimwear
Jerusalem, Israel
January 10, 2012
Quotes from doctors about kidney dontation - #2
“Kidney donation is a relatively SAFE OPERATION, and many donors will never feel the loss of their second kidney. So giving up a kidney causes no disadvantage to your long-term health. In fact, studies have shown, that kidney donors actually live longer than the general population - because donors come from a pool of people in good health"

- Dr. Michael Edye, Adjunct Associate Professor of surgery, Mt. Sinai Medical Center, New York, NY


Very Safe Operation"

- Dr. Jay Levine, General Surgeon, St., Mary's Health Care, West Michigan, MI



"There's a lot of misconceptions about kidney donation and a lot of fear. But if people take the time to get the facts, they find out the risks are very minimal. People are born with two kidneys. You only need one."

- Michelle Winsor, Kidney Transplant Coordinator, Sharp Memorial Hospital, San Diego, CA
Chaya Liposchutz
Brooklyn, NY
January 10, 2012
Quotes from doctors on kidney donation - Part 1
"Just think people have no problem having only one kidney, so we have to ask, why did Hashem give us two kidneys? Perhaps it is so you would have an extra one to donate and save a life!

- Dr. Stuart Greenstein, Kidney Transplant Surgeon, Montefiore Medical Center, Bronx, NY



"We are born with approximately 4-5 times the kidney function that we need, to be healthy and stay off of dialyisis- to not have kidney failure. So by donating one of your kidneys, you are still left with with 2-3 times the amount of kidney function that you need to be healthy and lead a normal life"

- Dr. Joseph Del Pizzo. Assistant Professor of Urology, Director, Laproscopic Surgery, New York - Presbytarian Hospital - Weill Corneil Medical Center, New York, NY.

Chaya Lipschutz
Brooklyn, NY
January 10, 2012
Life is the same with 1 kidney as with two
Chana - thanks for your question and understand any concerns anyone may have. Generally, when someone donates a kidney, the remaining kidney enlarges to make up for the kidney that was donated. Life is the same with one kidney as with two. Donor doesn't need to go on a diet or take any medication. It's the kidney recipient that has to take anti-rejection drugs for the rest of their life. There are risks as with any surgery. cosmetic surgery included. However, The late Professor Michael Friedlander , who worked in Jerusalem as a specialist in kidney transplants did a lot of research, and he said in the end, according to his research, "It’s no more dangerous to give one kidney, if you are healthy, then to drive around Tel Aviv in a car," They will make sure the person is healthy enough to donate a kidney before allowing that person to do so.
Chaya Lipschutz
Brooklyn, , NY
January 10, 2012
Thank you!
Thanks everyone for the great comments and for all your kind words!
Chaya Lipschutz
Brooklyn, NY
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