Last month, Adam Levitz, a 44-year-old married father of three received a new liver and a new lease on life. His donor, Rabbi Ephraim Simon – one of only a handful of individuals to ever have donated both a kidney and a portion of his liver – volunteered for a procedure most hospitals won’t even allow.
The two men had never met until just days before the life-saving surgery, but Simon said that’s exactly what he was looking for.
“As a rabbi, I do a lot of talking about love, doing things for others and altruism,” said the 50-year-old father of nine who co-directs Chabad of Bergen County in Teaneck, N.J., with his wife, Nechamy. “A rabbi’s greatest sermon and a parent’s greatest lecture is the way they live their lives.”
The rabbi’s route to donation was a circuitous chain of kindness that involved many, most notably Chaya Lipschutz, a woman from Brooklyn, N.Y., who donated a kidney to a stranger and has devoted her life to matching kidney donors and recipients.
Since she had matched Rabbi Simon with the recipient of the kidney that he donated in 2009, he approached her again and asked if she was aware of anyone who could use his liver.
“Rabbi Simon approached me in 2012 and told me that he wanted to donate a portion of his liver altruistically,” said Lipschutz. “That is unique. It is extremely rare for someone to donate a kidney and then a liver, but he was so very motivated to give this gift to someone.”
Through the introduction of Chanie Wilhelm of Chabad of Milford, Conn., Lipschutz had been aware of Levitz, a resident of Long Island whose parents were leading members of Wilhelm’s congregation.
Diagnosed with the inflammatory bowel condition Crohn’s disease at age 15, Levitz was no stranger to pain and medical complications and managed to live a productive life despite the condition, which has no known cure. However, when the disease affected his liver, things got much worse.
Levitz was placed on a donor registry in several places and had even rushed twice to Philadelphia in the hopes of receiving livers from deceased donors, but both times, his hopes were dashed. In one case, the liver wasn’t in good enough condition, and the other was too large.
In retrospect, Levitz reflected, it was all God’s hand since his doctors had advised him that he really needed a transplant from a living donor.
As a previous organ donor, Simon was considered by most hospitals to be high-risk, and so they refused to consider him as a candidate. The only place in the country they were able to find that would do the surgery was Ohio’s acclaimed Cleveland Clinic, which has a unique philosophy about working with people to save lives at all costs.
Before entering into surgery, Simon and Levitz met for the first time, in an experience both described as “emotional.”
Said Levitz, “I am so thankful to God and to Rabbi Simon, whom I call my guardian angel. He represents everything that I have grown to love and respect about Chabad. He never once asked me how religious I am or anything else. I was a fellow human being, a fellow Jew, and he was happy to be able to help me.”