Monroeville man pushes for more organ transplant help
A decade ago, Jack Silverstein had to use a wheelchair to get around, and he spent almost all his time undergoing kidney dialysis or recuperating from it.
Now, Silverstein plays golf, bowls and can walk a 5K route in 75 minutes. Sunday was his day to celebrate it all — with help from many people who have had the same type of life-altering help.
About 100 people joined Silverstein in his Monroeville backyard on Sunday to celebrate the second chances many of them received from organ transplants. Silverstein had a kidney, pancreas and bone marrow transplant nearly 10 years ago and invited other transplant recipients — with their families, friends, doctors and support personnel — to celebrate their own recoveries, honor their donors and advocate for more than 100,000 people who need new organs.
“You have a whole new life when you get a transplant. You can see these people, they're all peppy,” Silverstein, 66, said about the partygoers who filled his shady, L-shaped backyard. “We can do what we want to do, travel and do good things. That's the most important thing.”
Silverstein is trying to grow his nonprofit, Western PA Kidney Support Groups, beyond the Pittsburgh area to serve transplant patients throughout Western Pennsylvania. Its volunteers meet with kidney disease patients to talk about the benefits of a transplant and how to deal with the process, including the drug regimen and the lifestyle changes recipients have to make.
That type of support is vital for people who need all types of transplants, said George Beckett, 55, of McKees Rocks.
Receiving a new organ is painful and frustrating, taking physical and emotional tolls on patients, said Beckett, who received a liver in 2010. It's important for recipients to get support from people with real-life experience, he said.
That's how he met Silverstein, who visited Beckett in the hospital as part of his many volunteer efforts. Silverstein said he has worked with several hospitals, dialysis centers and advocacy groups, and he bowls in the World Transplant Games, holding himself up as an example of how transplants can improve lives.
Beckett said those efforts inspired him to volunteer at Allegheny General Hospital on the North Side and participate in the events Silverstein and others coordinate.
“It's been a lift for me,” Beckett said. “It definitely gives me something to do and days to plan and get up for. I look forward to the days I get to do things (with Silverstein).”
That type of inspiration is especially important for people with failing kidneys, Silverstein said. Many patients don't realize they can opt for a transplant and feel hopeless because of how draining life with dialysis can be, he said.
The Tribune-Review's “Failure to Inform” investigative series in 2009 revealed that many kidney dialysis patients were kept in the dark about the option to have a transplant. Kidney transplantation adds an average of 10 years to a patient's life and can save taxpayers millions of dollars a year, but financial reasons, ignorance, fear and insurance rules often delay it for years.
“A lot of these people think if they're on dialysis, they're on dialysis for the rest of their lives. They don't have to be,” Silverstein said, noting that he didn't have the energy or strength to be active in the years before his transplant.
“Their lives can totally change. My life totally changed.”
Timothy Puko is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7991 or firstname.lastname@example.org.