by Robert Kimmel –
Faced with serious health problems, Sleepy Hollow resident Len Andrew’s resolve to undergo kidney transplantation twice led him to successfully overcome those problems. These experiences also inspired him to become an active member of the local Transplant Support Organization, (TSO), and he remains a member of its Board of Directors.
The non-profit group is devoted to raising the public’s awareness of all types of organ transplants and the need for organ donations, as well as providing support for those awaiting transplant operations. It meets monthly at the Greenburgh Health Center.
Andrew encountered his first problem in 1981, when, as the father of two young daughters, he was informed he had kidney failure. Following a demanding regimen of going to a hemodialysis center three times a week while continuing his work as an attorney, he urged his doctor to have him listed on a transplant waiting list. After what Andrew described as “only eight months on the waiting list,” he underwent a transplant at Montefiore Hospital, with doctors using a kidney from a young woman who had died in an auto accident.
Twenty-eight years later, blood tests indicated that Andrew would require hemodialysis again, as noted by his physician; however, he once again sought successfully to be placed on a waiting list to replace his failing earlier transplanted kidney. An unknown, “altruistic” donor offered his kidney, Andrew related, as well as did his own wife, Helen. “Two amazing people,” he called them. But neither met the required match.
Following an unusually short four month wait, an uncommon situation led to Andrew receiving a transplanted kidney at Mount Sinai Hospital. He had learned that he had contracted Hepatitis C from blood transfusions in 1981, but the disease, undiagnosed for many years, did not damage his liver as the virus most often does. He was told that a kidney infected with Hepatitis C would not harm him and would be more readily available. He received his second kidney transplant in December 2010. The matched kidney came from a man who lost his life in an auto accident just outside Philadelphia.
“If not for the transplants, I would be dead,”Andrew said. “It is very important for people to understand the value of transplants and the importance of registering as a donor so that your information stays with you.” He noted the Transplant Support Organization’s persistence in successfully lobbying Albany legislators to pass rules allowing people as young as 16, when registering for a driver’s permit, to pledge their organs, with parental consent. At 18, they do not need that consent. Last year, Governor Cuomo signed legislation and executive orders designed to increase organ donations in the state.
On any given day, there are about 115,000 people in the United States waiting for a transplant organ, with kidneys heading the list – 95,000 needed, followed by the liver at approximately 14,000, and with the heart, lung, pancreas and intestine completing the list. More than 33,000 transplant operations are performed annually. Within every 18 hours in New York State, on average, someone dies waiting for an organ transplant.
Last year marked the 20th anniversary of the TSO, with 90% of its membership residing in Westchester, according to its Co-President, Ira Copperman. It has regional offices in other areas as well. He noted that he and Andrew have been associated with the organization for more than 10 years. Cooperman’s wife, Glenda, also a member, is a transplant recipient, having received simultaneously a kidney and pancreas 18 years ago. Both Copperman and his wife have been actively involved speaking at schools, churches and before other groups about the need for transplant organs, and as he described it, high school students “are very receptive to this issue.” Many of them ask, “Why wouldn’t we donate?” he said.
The TSO has about 80 dues-paying members, but it reaches up to as many as 400 persons who receive its newsletter and who come to meetings and other events, Copperman related. He said the meetings keep members informed of “the latest and the greatest techniques in the transplant world.” Members primarily are those waiting for a transplant or who have been recipients of a transplanted organ. Copperman explained that the TSO also “offers emotional support for those waiting for transplants.” As for potential donors, he noted, “We try to reinforce the most important thing: that they tell their families their end-of-life wishes and that they communicate to their loved ones that they wish to be an organ donor.”
An annual TSO scholarship is being awarded this month to Lauren Shields, a high school senior at Albertus Magnus High School, Bardonia, New York, for taking on a project “to raise the awareness and enhance the perception of organ transplants.” The New York State Organ Donor Registration Law, called Lauren’s Law, is named for Lauren, who received a heart transplant at the age of nine, noted Andrew, who chairs the TSO Scholarship Committee.
“I have been very blessed,” Andrew emphasized. “I would not be here if that in the 1980s someone had not given their organs when they died, and likewise again eight years ago.” While he has been officially retired since 1999 from important legal positions at IBM and corporate law, he still practices in not-for-profit corporate law and has been heavily involved in a wide variety of community activities. He has served on the Family YMCA in Tarrytown Board and was its chairman, and he has been an active member of the Rotary. He has been a past president at Kendal on Hudson, where he now resides, and a board member of the RSHM Life Center, the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, the Foundation for Religion and Mental Health, and other groups. Andrew has been the recipient of many awards.
“I’ve been fortunate,” he commented.
The local Transplant Support Organization meets monthly at the Greenburgh Health Center, 295 Knollwood Road, White Plains, NY, (just south of I-287 at exit 4). This month’s meeting takes place on Wednesday, June 20 from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Parking and access to the Community Room are in the back of the building. Two presentations will take place at the June session.
Of the approximately 115,000 people in the United States awaiting organ transplants, almost 10,000 reside in the New York metropolitan area. While 31% of New Yorkers age 18 and over have enrolled in the New York State Donate Life Registry as organ, tissue and eye donors, the nationwide average is 56%.
New Yorkers can enroll in the NYS Donate Life Registry through the following online locations: