This year, Ilene Silverman’s synagogue found her a match — only it wasn’t a match of the heart, but of the kidney.
The 67-year-old Germantown resident and retired teacher had lived her entire life with one kidney. It had remained healthy until Silverman suffered a debilitating intestinal blockage 12 years ago that was diagnosed only after her organs had begun to shut down.
Her kidney continued to do its work for another decade. But two years ago, Silverman’s doctor gave her the life-altering news — she would need a new kidney.
“For two years, all I did was cry,” she said. She was told the wait for a kidney transplant would be two-to-seven years. More than 90,000 people are on the national kidney transplant waiting list for an organ.
Silverman wasn’t too worried — she had a husband, Allen, two sisters and two children. Surely one of them would be a match. But, for one reason or another, none of them worked out. Her choice was either to wait for the organ donor list to come through or try another way to find a living donor.
“They teach you how to ask for a kidney,” she said about a symposium on dialysis she and Allen attended. “More people may know about my medical history than I would have liked, but what else can you do?”
In January, Silverman posted a letter on Facebook. Again, nothing worked out.
Then, a friend from her Ocean City mahjongg group suggested asking Rabbi Susan Warshaw of Temple Bat Yam in the nearby town of Berlin to forward a letter to congregants about Silverman’s health issue.
The Silvermans, who own a condo in Ocean City, had joined the temple a year earlier.
“I said, ‘Of course, that’s what we do,’” said Warshaw, who sent out the letter later that month. “We try to help people in our community.” To the end of the letter she added her own blessing.
It was this letter that piqued the interest of Rachel White, a 56-year-old Salisbury resident and two-decade member of Temple Bat Yam.
Silverman’s story touched White, especially because her own mother had died of kidney disease. She felt compelled to help.
With full support of her family, White started the process. After filling out the questionnaire from Medstar Georgetown Transplant Institute, the hospital asked if she would have some blood work done and then ashed her have follow-up tests.
White was a match.
“I decided to keep going,” she said. “And as I kept being a match, I just felt like this was something that was meant to be.”
Silverman and White met for the first time in April for a Passover seder at the temple. Silverman cried and took photos of the two of them. The next time they met was June 12, the day before their surgeries.
The surgeries then happened on June 13 — or 613, the number of mitzvot in Judaism — which White said that she and Silverman took as another sign that “all the stars aligned.”
White’s surgery was first thing in the morning while Silverman’s would happen late afternoon.
“Rachel has been nothing less than remarkable,” Silverman said. “She didn’t have any doubts at all. You know, she could have changed her mind to the moment [before surgery], but she didn’t.”
Because White’s blood is O positive, the most common blood type, doctors asked if she and Silverman would participate in a transplant chain, called a paired exchange, and the women agreed. White’s kidney went to Minnesota, then a kidney from Minnesota went to Colorado and a kidney from a 25-year-old in Colorado went to Silverman.
Both Silverman and White are recovering well, and White has returned to work as a social worker for Maryland. The experience has left them “bonded for life,” as Silverman puts it. They’ve seen each other a couple times since the surgery and keep in contact by text.
White is not one for publicity, but hopes that sharing this story will inspire others to consider donating.
As for Silverman, she said she’ll never be able to repay White. “What do you get someone who gave you the gift of life?” she said.
“I’m nothing less than blessed,” she added. “I know how lucky I am.”