In 1999, Gene Ogman learned that he had a rare kidney disease that had only a 30 percent chance of going into remission. He vowed he would beat the disease and stay alive for his newborn son, Adlai. “I made a promise to myself I was going to beat this thing as much as I could,” said Ogman, who is an industrial and interior designer who worked for Rockefeller Center, Estee Lauder, and Chanel, among other companies. He grew up in Peabody, where his father Abraham Ogman was once president of what is now Temple Tiferet Shalom.
As a teenager, he was president of Peabody Teen Youth; his interest in design was fostered by being allowed to sit in on the architect’s meetings for the new temple building. His father and his sister, Sharon Glasser, are still members of Tiferet Shalom.
For the past 20 years, Ogman, who now lives in South Salem, N.Y., has managed to keep good on the promise he made to himself and his family to conquer his disease through maintaining a rigorous diet, keeping detailed records of his health, and fully committing to his medication program.
“It’s been a long process,” said Ogman. “One of the important things I’ve been doing over the past 20 years is I’ve been charting my blood and test results, so I’ve been giving myself an image of where I have to be. What I have now is a chart on Excel that’s about four feet long … my kidney function is starting to decline.”
Unfortunately, even though Ogman’s disease is likely in remission, his kidneys are exhausted, and he has gotten on a waitlist for a transplant.
This is a notoriously challenging process. Because the demand for compatible kidneys is much greater than the available supply, wait times are four to five years or more. There are two paths for a kidney transplant: either from a recently deceased cadaver donor or a living donor. A live kidney donation is preferable because it is less prone to infection, doesn’t stop functioning during the transplant process, and generally lasts longer. Sometimes recipients need to decide within an hour whether they’ll take a kidney that might be risky. With a living donor, the transplant is not only expected to have a better outcome, but recipients generally do not have to rush the life or death decision of whether to accept a less well-matched or less healthy cadaver kidney. Ogman also pointed out that living donors are put at the top of donation lists in the rare instance that their remaining kidney becomes compromised.
Ogman already has determined that none of his close family or friends are donor matches, so he and his wife, Ariane, a life coach, have been working with Renewal, a Brooklyn-based Orthodox Jewish nonprofit that helps match live donors with people who need kidneys and provides guidance to donors and recipients through each stage of the complex process.
“They make it as easy as possible for someone to donate,” said Ogman. “They go through a lot of questions and answers and scrutiny so that if you wanted to donate your kidney, they would find out if you’re comfortable with it, and even possibly find money for you for the period you’re out of work.”
If you or someone you know is in good health, under 75, and might be interested in donating, contact Renewal by calling 718-431-9831 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Information is available at renewal.org. Though Renewal is a Jewish organization, you do not have to be Jewish to donate. All medical costs are covered by insurance, and recovery time lasts about three weeks, with just the first two days in hospital.