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Kidney transplant pros gather for Vivian’s celebration of life

We had a celebration of life in the Fried On Business studios recently as some of the key people involved in Vivian’s successful kidney transplantation gathered to share their stories.

Speaking of stories, by now you know ours. About four years ago, I received an emergency call and rushed home to find my wife, Vivian Fried, collapsed on the floor and unresponsive.

We rushed her to the hospital and we found out she needed a kidney transplant. The ordeal began, and it’s only by the grace of G-d and our selfless kidney donor, Betty Demartini, that we are here today.

After a diagnosis, a long process begins that focuses on both education and treatment, said Dr. Giselle Guerra, Medical Director of Transplant Services and Living Donor Kidney Program at Miami Transplant Institute.

“It’s a long road. It’s very tedious, and our job is to make it as easy as possible for everyone that walks in the door. It can be many years before they’re able to get a transplant,” she said.

The goal is not only to treat the patient with the utmost care, but the donor also, addressing every individual circumstance, added Luke Preczewski, Vice President for Transplant at Jackson Health System in Miami. He oversees the Miami Transplant Institute.

Okay, let’s face it: None of this is free. Not only is it not free, it’s not cheap.

That’s where the Jackson Health Foundation comes in. Keith Tribble, President and Chief Executive Officer, said the JHF works with all of the entities in the University of Miami Health System to provide for their financial needs.

Since joining JHF, Mr. Tribble and his team have secured over $40 million in charitable contributions.

One of the Foundation’s latest projects is the Transplant House, which will provide overnight lodging for the families of recovering transplant patients of the Miami Transplant Institute.

More than 2,000 people are waiting for a transplant at the Miami Transplant Institute, Guerra said, adding that the average wait in Florida is three to four years.

You’d think that with more than 2 million people in the greater Miami area it would be fairly easy to meet this need.

But not so, says Guerra. Even among would-be donors who feel fine, a health screening shows that many have health risks that disqualify them.

“We have found people with different illnesses, including cancer, and we’ve actually saved their lives,” she said.

You also have to be psychologically fit, she said, since it’s a lifelong commitment.

At the end of the day, only about 1 in 10 or 1 in 12 individuals are eligible to donate.

And then there’s the administrative side of things.

“Like any business, we have hundreds of people involved in what we do. There’s millions of dollars involved in it, and that’s my role. It’s a weird job, but I’m a businessman who runs a transplant center,” Preczewski said.

“My job is to make our medical experts, people like Dr. Guerra who are truly national experts in what they do, better and more efficient and able to provide the best care in the country.”

A key component to making it through dialysis, through transplantation and beyond is spiritual health and positive energy.

Vivian, for her part, actually upheld me in this process. It was amazing to watch her tackle this situation with drive, discipline and focus.

It also caught the attention of Nour Kawa, a guru at The Sacred Space in Miami. She and a group of women there surrounded Vivian with prayers that her kidney would come and she would survive this ordeal.

“Positivity, as Dr. Guerra mentioned, is absolutely a really, really big part of it. It seems that it’s almost as important as checking those boxes, taking your medicine, following up with the doctor. You have to go to the doctor – and be connected,” Kawa said.

Vivian chimed in: “I just never quit. It was like big writing in front of me, ‘Don’t Quit.’ I went through a lot of challenges, but I know I had the most loving family – my mom, my husband, the transplant team, the best doctors. They were always there for me. And, of course, the people at The Sacred Space. It was the most amazing place for me to find some healing.”

The Miami Transplant Institute is a joint program between the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine and Jackson Memorial Hospital, which itself is one of the largest hospitals in the nation with more than 2,000 beds, said Tribble.

Jackson is celebrating its centennial this year. A $1.4 billion expansion program is under way, and it’s an exciting time.

But the money from public sources – the state and county – is not enough to maintain the level of excellence that folks have come to expect from Jackson, Tribble said. So the Jackson Health Foundation was created in 1992 to close the gap.

Looking for a kidney is incredibly stressful. Sometimes there’s an immediate need to get hold of oneself and calm down. Believe me, I know.

Kawa said there are three things people can do to manage this kind of anxiety:

1. Breathe mindfully. Be conscious of your inhalation, hold it for a moment, and then be conscious of your exhalation.

2. Change your music. The change in vibration will influence your body and your mind.

3. Remember to be grateful. Take a moment to reflect on all of the good in your life.

For her part, Vivian said the people at the Miami Transplant Institute mean the world to her.

“They were there every step of the way. If Dr. Guerra, who’s very busy, couldn’t get back to me, she made sure that her right-hand got back to me. The facility was beautiful. My room was great. They are my family, because I wouldn’t have made it without them,” she said.

Added Preczewski: “When we talk about these facilities, investments, and raising money to build new buildings and things like that, that’s because we want to raise the quality of our infrastructure up to the level of the amazing people that we have. That’s what Jackson is. That’s what’s made this century of care that we’ve been able to provide.”

Guerra said, “We truly believe in saving lives. Vivian is a pure example of why coming to work is not work. We truly believe in making miracles happen.”

Now, people call me all the time asking about how they can help someone find a living donor. The answer is this: There is no answer.

There’s no one individual, system or group that can help. So, here’s my advice: Pull out all the stops. Have everyone you know send your request to their network of family and friends. It’s easier than ever in this age of instant communication. Social media was key in our search for a living donor.

Many are willing to donate, but few are able. That’s where so-called “paired donation” comes in, Guerra said. You don’t have to be a match with the family member or friend who needs a kidney. Your donation to somebody else will free up a kidney that is in fact a match for your loved one.

Call the Miami Transplant Institute at 305-355-5000 for more information about organ donation, and click here to listen to the entire show.

I’d like to take this opportunity to thank G-d, all of these good people, and our heroic kidney donor Betty Demartini for saving the most important person in the world to me – Vivian Fried.

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