News and Events

Multicultural Kidney Donor Chain Saves Lives at Rambam

Publication Date: 9/22/2019

Israel and Hanan, a Jewish man and an Arab woman who each needed kidney transplants, had waited for years for surgery. With the help of a kidney donor chain that also brings together Jews and Arabs, compatible donors were found and their lives were saved.

Photography: Nathaniel Ayzik, Spokesperson’s Office, Rambam HCCPhotography: Nathaniel Ayzik, Spokesperson’s Office, Rambam HCC

Relations between Arabs and Jews in Israel are often complex, but at Rambam Health Care Campus, these issues remain firmly outside the gates – even against the backdrop of the latest round of Israeli elections. Twenty-four hours before the polls opened, two Jewish men and two Arab women faced a dramatic moment – a chain of operations that saved the lives of two of them.

Ido, from the religious Jewish community of Hoshaya, intended to altruistically donate a kidney to Israel, a man he didn’t know. Unfortunately, testing showed that he was not a match. Aida, from the Arab town of Shfaram, wanted to donate a kidney to her sister-in-law Hanan, but like the situation between Ido and Israel, the test results showed that Aida’s kidney was not suitable for Hanan. Doctors at Rambam proposed a kidney transplant donor chain, whereby Aida would donate her kidney to Israel, and Ido donated a kidney to Hanan.

Israel Belban (35), a resident of Kiryat Bialik, needed a kidney transplant due to a hereditary disease. Four years ago he began receiving dialysis, which completely changed his lifestyle. "I stopped working, and came to Rambam Hospital almost every day for four hours. At one point, I was hospitalized for six months. I was a transplant candidate on the waiting list for a donor.” One day, he received a call from the Matnat Chaim Association (an association responsible for facilitating hundreds of transplants in recent years), letting him know that a potential donor had been found. Belban’s hope was short-lived, however, because the donor—Ido—was not a match.

At the same time, and without knowing each other, Hanan Amada—a Muslim woman from Shfaram—was also hospitalized at Rambam while waiting for a kidney donation. Aida Husari, her 52-year-old sister-in-law, said it was clear to her that she would save Hanan's life. "I was tested and told that the kidney was not suitable for Hanan. We were asked at the hospital if I would be willing to donate my kidney to someone else, and that maybe the other donor would be able to donate his kidney to my sister-in-law. I replied that if we can save two people's lives, I have no problem donating my kidney to him."

The complex transplant surgeries required full coordination between different departments. Preparation of donors and recipients was carried out by the Department of Nephrology & Hypertension, led by Dr. Suheir Assady; the Medical Transplant Unit, led by Dr. Rawi Ramadan; Esti Katz, Rambam Hospital's transplant coordinator, Ms. Esti Katz; the Immunology and Tissue Classification Laboratory; the Medical Imaging Division; and the Nuclear Medicine Institute.

Dr. Avi Weissman and other members of the administration coordinated the logistical aspects regarding the operating rooms and the performance of simultaneous surgeries. Professor Ahmed Assalia, Deputy Director of the Department of General Surgery, and Dr. Tony Karram, Director of the Department of Vascular and Transplantation, were responsible for removing the kidneys and preparing them for transplantation.

The transplants were performed concurrently in separate operating rooms by the Vascular and Transplantation Department Director Dr. Karram, Deputy Director Professor Samy Nitecki, and the rest of the department's doctors, who were all involved in the complex process and shared in its success. The multi-disciplinary team also included medical staff from the Department of Anesthesiology, and nursing staff from the operating room as well as the Departments of Vascular Surgery and Nephrology.

The donor chain was successful, and the donors and recipients were given the opportunity to meet one another. "I met Aida in the hospital, thanked her and brought her a gift and chocolates," Israel said excitedly. Aida added, "I am very happy that I saved the lives of two people. The racism of the politicians kills us, but we learned to live together, Arabs and Jews. Every Saturday we meet with our Jewish friends and we have no hatred for anyone - we grow up together and it will stay that way all of our lives," she explained.

Esti Katz, Rambam Hospital's transplant coordinator, notes with satisfaction, "It is quite rare that we are able to coordinate such an operation quickly, and within three weeks we successfully performed the operation."

Rabbi Yeshayahu Heber, chairman of the Matnat Chaim Association, welcomed the special transplant. "This transplant is an exciting, uplifting union between different parts of the nation – Jews and Muslims, religious and secular, women and men. That is the beauty of Matnat Chaim (which means Gift of Life), and I hope we will continue to connect and unite the people through an altruistic lifesaving."