Chuck Winer in Vietnam.

Jewish Vietnam vet battles to find a kidney donor



Jewish Vietnam vet battles to find a kidney donor

Chuck Winer in Vietnam.

When Medford native Chuck Winer served in the Vietnam War in 1970, he worked as a magazine editor for the 1st Aviation Brigade. Now he is engaged in a different kind of battle. He has kidney disease, and needs a kidney donor.

These days, Winer tries to exercise outdoors when the weather is good, and when it’s not, he works out on a stationary bike at his home in Newton. He has to follow a special low-dairy, low-potassium diet, which he does with the help of his wife, Debbie Kurlansky-Winer. The couple tries to spread awareness of his need for a donor through their website. He has been cleared for a transplant at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

For a transplant to take place, though, “I need to get people to register [as a donor] at the Brigham,” Winer said. “The main goal is to find somebody who will qualify. The more people see my story, visit my website, register, the better off I am. It’s the most important thing that can be done.”

Winer said that it was exposure to Agent Orange in Vietnam that probably led to his kidney disease. Thirty years ago, at age 44, he was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a type of blood cancer that he said has been increasingly linked to Agent Orange. Given a prognosis of between a year and a year and a half to live, he underwent an experimental bone marrow transplant, with his brother Stephen Winer as the donor. Chemotherapy and radiation treatment followed.

Winer in Israel.

“I was very fortunate to survive that,” Chuck Winer said. But, he added, “it also damaged my kidneys. I’ve been living with damaged kidneys for many years.”

He recalled that in Vietnam, when he was a combat correspondent who took photos for his brigade’s magazine, he was “flying around in a helicopter with all open exposure, no doors. I would sit on the side of the door next to the door gunner and take pictures. I was probably exposed [to Agent Orange].”

A photo from his Vietnam days is prominently displayed on his Facebook page. He got to speak about his life experiences with then-president Barack Obama when they met at a fundraiser for Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign.

After sharing his story, Obama said, ‘You must be one tough guy.’ … He said, ‘You must come to Washington.’ I met with his policy people [there].”

Before retiring in 2015, Winer worked in the health care field for 45 years.

Asked how he feels today, Winer said, “I feel OK … sometimes my hemoglobin and oxygen levels go down and my red blood cells drop. I get a shot to boost them up. I’ve got to say, I feel pretty good. I go out and do exercise, walk around. I’m doing OK. I try to stay fit. I’m waiting for the kidney to appear.”

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, he said, “I have not gone into stores. I’ve ordered food [for takeout] for close to two years … I have not gone to restaurants to eat. I have to be very careful, even though I’ve had the shots and booster.”

One place where Winer does go to is Temple Shalom of Medford, for Shabbat. He has been going there since his days growing up in Medford. He lived with his grandfather on Salem Street for a while, then moved to the Lawrence Estates, walking distance to the temple.

An observant Jew who has been to Israel, Winer hopes to get his story out more into the Jewish community.

“The Medford community knows about me,” Winer said. “I’m not so sure the greater Jewish community knows about me … A lot of Jews feel it is a mitzvah to make a donation such as a kidney to save someone’s life.

“It’s important to demystify what it means to be a donor. It’s a simple procedure that’s basically laparoscopy in the hospital that’s done in only two days. You can be back at work in one week. It’s not the same as being a recipient. I’m trying to get people to understand that it’s not a tremendously difficult process.”

Kurlansky-Winer, Winer’s brother, and several friends all have sought to donate a kidney to him but were screened out.

“With all the people who hear about his situation, hopefully somebody will ultimately step forward and register,” Kurlansky-Winer said.

“If you are a healthy person, you have two good kidneys,” Winer said. “If you donate one, you’ll still be a healthy person and you also will have saved somebody’s life.”

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