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Monday, June 29, 2020

So, about that whole kidney donation thing... (Part 2)

[Part 1 of this series can be found here]

Zeus was a bit of an asshole.  For a god who was supposed to be the king of all the other gods on Mount Olympus, he sure seemed to display a streak of insecurity when it came to mortals challenging his authority.   

Look what he did to Sisyphus: For the ‘crime’ of being clever and upsetting the established order of life and death, Zeus sentenced Sisyphus to repeatedly roll a huge boulder uphill, only to have it roll back down again and again. 

Or Prometheus, who pissed off Zeus by stealing fire back for humanity, and who was punished by being chained and having an eagle eat his liver every day; only to have it grow back every night.

Being the son of an educator, I grew up with Greek mythology.  So much so, that in 1st grade I didn’t find it the least bit odd that we had cats named Dido and Aeneas.    

So, how did Greek mythology influence my decision to donate a kidney?

Here’s the thing… the problem with teaching kids about mythology is that they are very literal.  They try to apply modern logic to whatever they encounter… and it usually doesn’t work.

I remember my dad explaining that mythology was basically just a bunch of made up stories to explain natural events, or to offer morality lessons about human behavior.   

I asked him about the whole ‘liver regeneration’ thing.  He told me that it wasn’t real.  It was just a story describing the most painful punishment the author could imagine.

But it bothered me.  That story seemed oddly specific, yet didn’t relate to anything the ancient Greeks would have encountered.

And even as I completed my undergraduate degree in English Literature, I kept running into endless references to mythological figures/events.  All fine and good.  Dad was right, those myth-writers were just explaining observed natural events and human inclinations. 

Except for that liver regeneration thing.  There’s no way the Greeks created the story of Prometheus’ punishment and randomly chose that specific organ!

Then, one day while I was in college, I read a news report about liver transplantation from a living donor; made possible because a liver lobe that is surgically removed will completely regenerate itself within a very short time. 


Turns out the surgical technique for safely removing (and transplanting) a lobe of a living person’s liver - knowing that it would grow back - wasn’t pioneered until the second half of the 20th century!

So, how the hell did the ancient Greeks know that the human liver could regenerate itself?! 

That question bothered me for years.  Each time I stumbled on a report of live liver transplantation (and thanks to the ‘Baader-Meinhof phenomenon’, I stumbled on it a lot!), I would read the article carefully for any mention of Prometheus or some ancient knowledge of liver regeneration.  Nada.  Zip!

The more I read about living liver donation, the more I became fascinated by the idea.  I was a habitual blood donor, and was an early adapter to signing an organ donor card (despite Judaism’s early hostility to the idea).  So the idea of saving a life by donating something that would miraculously grow back, seemed a no-brainer.

Except that the more I read about living liver lobe donation, the more I discovered that it is a fairly risky and painful surgery, and they usually only allow immediate family members to donate in order to save a loved-one’s life.

Scratch that off the list. 

Forget the fact that everyone in my family has healthy livers (tfu, tfu, tfu).  As soon as the concept went from blood donation safe/painless, to life-threateningly dangerous (with a long, painful recovery period), it lost a lot of its charm.  Apparently altruism has its limits with this boy.

But in the course of educating myself about the stark realities of liver donation, I naturally came across a bunch of articles about a parallel living organ procedure that had been practiced and perfected to the point of becoming almost routine:  Living kidney donation.

I don’t know the exact date I began idly toying with the idea of kidney donation, but it was sometime around the time that the reality of middle age began to creep into my contemplation of my own mortality.  I spent almost a decade assessing and addressing creeping health issues; losing weight, getting myself fitter and taking my blood chemistry reports seriously (for the first time), etc.. 

And once I felt I had my own health somewhat under control, I began thinking about the feasibility of repairing someone else’s health.  What do they say, "there's none so zealous as a recent convert, nor so carnal as a recent virgin'.  Once anyone gets healthy, it's somewhat inevitable that they want to make others healthy.

That's enough for one day.

Everyone who donates a kidney comes to the idea from a unique starting point.  This was the story of mine.

[The next installment will get into the nitty-gritty of the screening and decision process]

As always, to be notified of new posts, follow me on twitter @treppenwitz.

[Read Part 1,  and Part 3 ]

Posted by David Bogner on June 29, 2020 | Permalink


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Dear Dave,
Welcome back to your blog! I had almost giving up checking...almost. I always appreciated your writing style. I was very happy to hear about your interest in your health. That interest, IMHO always has to come from you. My wife over the past few years has had breast cancer and a brain tumor, both of which with Hashem's help we have beat. But, I still eat Coco pebbles for breakfast, and probably do not exercise all that much. You'd think I'd be super motivated to be healthier. Well, at least COVID 19 got rid of all kiddushes, so I'm not eating lunch on Shabbos 2x, so there is that. Maybe.
Anyway one other quick question. With the tech advances of electric bikes and scooters, and so many more on the road,I was wondering if you'd had any more interesting Vespa adventures? Keep up the posts!

Posted by: Mathew Gorin | Jul 1, 2020 3:18:43 PM

Another great read. I am so glad you are writing again and inspiring us in the process.

Posted by: Ilana-Davita | Jul 1, 2020 3:49:57 PM

Okay... now that Ilana-Davita has weighed in, it's beginning to feel like the old days. Thanks to the Facebook ban, Bogner may be responsible for rebuilding the J-Blogger community.

Beautifully penned post, Trep. I love learning that the interest started from learning Greek mythology at your daddy's knee. I don't know why that makes it more romantic and intriguing, but it does. Looking forward to future installments!

Posted by: Ruti Eastman | Jul 3, 2020 10:21:09 AM

Ruti, you made me smile.

Posted by: Ilana-Davita | Jul 6, 2020 9:28:46 PM

Mathew Gorin... reports of my demise were greatly exaggerated. ;-)

Ilana-Davita... It feels good for me, as well. I'm so glad to see you back, too.

Ruti Eastman... I was thinking the same thing. We will never be able to reconstitute the old blogosphere from the 'golden age'. But we can stage reunions among some of the familiar names.

Ilana-Davita... She makes everyone smile.

Posted by: treppenwitz | Jul 7, 2020 7:59:00 AM

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