Liver Day

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Right now, I’m on vacation with my family and its very fitting that we’re all together. You see, August 16th a very special and auspicious day for the Balk family, not only because it was my grandmother’s birthday. My mother had been placed on the transplant list on June 29, 2005, after years of living with a damaged liver now forced her to need a new one. My sister and I were at camp, away from my parents during this trying time for our family. I don’t know what it was like for them back in Cleveland, but for me, up in the rural cottage-country of Ontario, every day brought a sense of anxiety, excitement, and disappointment. Anxiety because I was a 16 year old who researched organ transplants for months and who knew the list was long and that some patients die while waiting. Excitement for the possibility of my mother getting a new lease on life. Disappointment because I waited every single day of camp for that phone call or email or message from the camp office or fax (remember those?) and it never came. The summer of 2005 was my last as a camper, as I was in the oldest age unit, which typically adds an extra emotional bent to the two sessions at camp (on top of everything else that I was going through!).  On the final morning of camp, after staying up all night and saying my goodbyes, I boarded the bus and bid farewell to my summer home. We passed through the US-Canada border without any hiccups and pulled into a rest stop in Angola, NY, one that the bus stopped at on the way to and from camp each summer. I had finally stopped crying after thinking back to my previous years as a camper and how they were now over, in what seemed like a mere instant. I went into the rest stop and picked up a pay phone (again, remember those?) and called my house, as I always did on the way back from camp, to let my mom know our ETA. I found it strange that there was no answer. Usually, my mother was home preparing our post-camp feast. I found it even more peculiar that neither one of my parents had answered their cell phones. I wasn’t concerned, just found it odd. I got back on the bus and began eating my newly procured snacks  when Deborah Kaufman ran to the back of the bus where I was seated and handed me a cell phone. “It’s your dad.” I assumed he saw the missed call on his cell phone from a random New York number and figured we were trying to tell him we’d be another few hours. But I couldn’t believe what he told me. “Mom got a liver! She’s in surgery now and By the time you get home, we can go see her.” I don’t know what I did next other than begin bawling. The rest of the ride was an absolute blur. We got home and eventually made it over to the ICU where my mother was recovering. She was on the transplant waiting list for less that 2 months, and had still been working the entire time, two incredible facts. August 16th brings about memories of an entire community of caring, a community that still amazes me with how incredible they were, and still are.

I don’t know how many people have gotten calls that changed their lives forever. Sometimes, the news on the other end brings sorrow and pain.

I’ve been a staunch supporter of of organ donation in the Jewish community, and it’s amazing to see the work that organizations such as Renewal and HODS have been doing. I know that not everyone is comfortable with signing on to be an organ donor. I implore you to make an informed decision. Do your research. Speak to your doctor and/or your rabbi. I know it’s something that many would rather not think about, but you can’t fathom what it feels like for those on the other side. That little box on your driver’s license goes a long way. (Just to reiterate, be informed!)

I’d be lying if I said the next 8 years were the easiest ones for Sheila Radman Balk, but I shudder to think about how different this story would’ve been had she not received a phone call from the Cleveland Clinic at 11:00 pm the night before her transplant.

Hodu L’Hashem Ki Tov.


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