Toby Adelman loves to put people together; she has been doing so with gusto her entire life. But earliler this summer, the 54-year-old San Jose resident outdid herself with the most extraordinary — and personal — connection she's ever made.
Adelman donated one of her kidneys to someone she met only two weeks before the surgery, but with whom she already felt a deep, spiritual bond.
The grateful recipient was Philly native Marc Klein, editor of the Jewish Exponent during the early 1980s before going on to San Francisco and becoming editor and publisher of the Jewish Bulletin, later renamed j., until he stepped down last fall.
"It blew me away, just blew me away," he says of Adelman's gift.
Klein's kidneys were failing, and he had started feeling the more acute symptoms of end-stage renal disease, including loss of strength, balance and appetite. The next step would be life on dialysis, something Klein, 63, desperately wanted to avoid. But he was told his wait for a deceased-donor kidney could be up to eight years.
Instead, on June 13, just a few short months after putting out the word about his situation through an article in j., an email blast from the San Francisco-based Jewish Community Federation and a Facebook appeal, Klein was a man with a healthy new kidney.
And Adelman had put her own life on the line to help him.
Why did she do it? For Adelman, a nurse educator at San Jose State University and a single parent raising a 16-year-old daughter who describes her mother as "ridiculously kind," the path was clear from the start. "Why do things for others? Why be giving?" she asks. "It's my absolute favorite thing to do. Connecting with people is my greatest joy."
Another favorite thing: the Jewish newspaper, where she first found out about Klein's predicament. Adelman says she felt a special bond with the man well before they ever knew each other.
"It's all about the j., the Jewish Bulletin," says Adelman, a reader for nearly 30 years. "The whole time I've lived in California [since 1983], Marc was running the paper. Even when I moved back to Maine and even when I made aliyah, I still ordered the j."
In March, j. ran the short article about Klein. When Adelman read that no one in his family was a suitable match, "I remember thinking, 'Wow, someone should donate that man a kidney,' " she recalls. "Then I read that he had O-positive blood type. And I said to myself, 'I'm O-positive. I'm somebody. I should donate Marc Klein a kidney.' "
The majority of living donors give to someone they know, a family member or friend, and the transplant can happen right away. Other patients must wait for a deceased-donor kidney on a list that is maintained by a national data bank and linked to local agencies. Each hospital keeps track of its own patient lists and makes sure those in the top tier are ready for transplant. The wait typically is several years.
That was the scary reality facing Klein when Adelman read about his crisis. Fortuitously, she had just completed a spiritual seminar that helped clarify her core beliefs.
The story easily could have ended there. But bashert, or destiny, was working its charms. Around the same time, Adelman was interviewed for a j. story on an entirely different matter — but one with a familiar theme, in which she got word of someone in need and jumped in with little hesitation to help.
While being interviewed for that April 2012 article, Adelman casually mentioned to the reporter her interest in helping Klein, and that nudged the ball forward a little more.
Klein, meanwhile, had little expectation that his outreach efforts would result in his finding a kidney donor. "I figured I'd try," he says, "but I didn't expect it to work out the way it did."
After Adelman completed blood, urine and radiology testing and turned out to be the best match, she and Klein spoke on the phone.
The two remain in frequent contact. Adelman snapped back to 100 percent within a few weeks and has returned to biking and swimming, and Klein is feeling better every day. He is also prepared to offer a gift of his own.
"I've decided to donate my body to medical science after death," he says. "I want to give back just like she did."