Friday, May 27, 2011

Happy Birthday, Kid!

Every year, Harold Mintz sends a birthday card to his own kidney. Sure, that’s kind of weird in itself, but wouldn’t you think he could simply put his hand on his gut and whisper, “Happy birthday, kid”? Instead, Harold signs and seals a card and then sends it to the address of a woman who was once a complete stranger. You might even say they were from different worlds.

Gennet Belay grew up in Ethiopia. When she was twelve, she developed a kidney infection that landed her in the hospital. Her father insisted that she wasn’t ill (after all, he reasoned, children don’t get sick) and discharged her from the hospital against medical orders. Left untreated, Gennet’s kidney infection worsened and, years later, nearly cost her her life.

In 1987, Gennet and her husband and baby immigrated to the US, and eight months later, both of Gennet’s kidneys went into failure. She began receiving dialysis treatments upwards of three times a week and was added to the kidney transplant list. Eleven years passed, and still no kidney. 

The whole time, Gennet prayed for a miracle. While praying on New Year’s Eve of 2000, Gennet distinctly heard a voice tell her: “This year is the end of your suffering.”

Enter Harold. As a life-long blood and platelet donor (and a member of the national bone marrow registry), Harold already knew how good it felt to help people. His wife and 10-year-old daughter already had plenty of reasons to be proud of the impact he was having on the lives of others. But after reading about a teacher who donated a kidney to one of her students, Harold felt compelled to take his giving up a notch. He picked up the phone and began the process of becoming a “live donor.”

Months later, Harold went under anesthesia, and one of his kidneys was removed and transported across town where Gennet was waiting to undergo her 45th surgery in two decades. That evening, while recovering from his own surgical procedure, Harold received a phone call. His kidney recipient was doing great, he was told. And his kidney? “Peeing up a storm,” according to the doctor who phoned to share the good news.

Harold and Gennet were later introduced and have since shared many family meals and celebrations together. Harold has given countless talks at high schools, and when he speaks of blood and organ donation, his eyes light up. I’m not kidding – this guy is on fire about the subject!

Harold believes there are no coincidences. Gennet believes in miracles. And I believe in the synchronicity of life that brought these two strangers together to form a lifelong bond of friendship. They come from different worlds, but they now share a remarkable experience – one that underscores the depth of humanity that dwells within us all.

Harold once told me his guiding principal in life has always been: follow the fun. Apparently, Harold’s idea of a good time is to help others. With thousands of people dying every year while awaiting organ transplants, we can only hope that more people follow in his footsteps and discover the “fun” in helping others. And next April, Harold’s kidney just might be getting a birthday card from me, too.

Download a PDF of the first 4 chapters of Lauren's memoir, Zuzu's Petals: A True Story of Second Chances, FREE here.  Click on the link below the green "Buy the Book" button.  Happy reading!  

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