A Rabbi’s quest to save lives began one kidney at a time

The Matnat Chaim story begins when Rabbi Herber, an Ultra-orthodox black hat rabbi and Yeshiva teacher from Jerusalem. He was walking up the steps to his office one afternoon when he lost his energy and became sick. Just an hour later, he arrived at the emergency room, was diagnosed with kidney failure, and placed on dialysis.

The search for a kidney match began immediately. But as is usually the case, not a single kidney match was found from anyone in his family. With an average wait for kidney at least 5 years, to Rabbi Herber, it felt like a death sentence.

Just one year later, a friend offered to donate a kidney and saved Rabbi Heber’s life.

During his hear on dialysis, the Rabbi had become very close friends with Pinchas, a teenager who also was also receiving dialysis treatment at the same clinic. The two would sit together for hours at a time over the year.

Once the Rabbi received his new kidney and had returned to good health, he knew exactly what he needed to do next. Find Pinchas a kidney match.

The Rabbi didn’t know where to start, so he started by asking everyone he knew. Nobody was interested. Every time he spoke with someone it was an opportunity to find a donor. People thought he was crazy until one day, after only a few months of searching, one of the two people who agreed to be tested was a match!

But the kidney donation process takes time. Like many other things in Israel, you have deal with bureaucracy. After many months of paperwork and delays, with only 2 weeks before the scheduled surgery, Pinchas died. The Rabbi was distraught. He couldn’t eat or drink.

On the day of Pinchas’ funeral, Rabbi Heber decided that he would quit his job at the Yeshiva and devote his life to kidney donors.

Kidney disease is epidemic all over the world and hundreds of Israelis are added to the waiting list each year. More than 1200 people in Israel have incurable end-stage renal failure and are waiting for a kidney transplant, and most of them can only survive by having dialysis treatments 3 times per week for four hours. While on dialysis adults generally cannot work; children usually cannot go to school.

Once an individual is on dialysis, life becomes an endless struggle, usually for both the patient and family.

Matnat Chaim, Hebrew for “Gift of Life”, provided education on the kidney donation process and helps find potential kidney donor who can be matched with someone in need. Using a network of volunteers, Matnat Chaim helps educate the Israeli public about how healthy individuals can donate a kidneys and save the life of another, who is usually someone they have never met.

In year 1 of operation, Matnat Chaim helped find 4 kidney donors. In year 2, 7 donors were found. In year 3, 11 kidney donor matches. By early 2017m Matnat Chaim marked its 400th kidney transplant! The vast majority of Matnat Chaim’s donors do not know their recipients prior to the surgery; the donor only knows that he or she will be saving the life.

An Unexpected Benefit for the State of Israel: Healthcare Savings
In Israel, the vast majority of the cost of medical care is paid by the government. Dialysis in Israel costs an estimated 250,000 shekels (about $70,000) per year per person.

Because most dialysis patients wait 6 or more years on average for a kidney match, the cost of dialysis sky rockets. With each kidney donor match found, not only is a human life forever transformed, but a huge health cost saving is achieved.

Each Year, an estimated 200 more individuals in Israel experience kidney failure and have to go on dialysis. The goal of Matnat Chaim is to find a matching kidney donor for every one of them.