I Donated a Kidney, Part 1

Kidney Beans

A week ago today (May 25) I underwent a “donor nephrectomy,” which is to say that I donated my left kidney to someone with serious kidney disease through the Cleveland Clinic.  I have been home since Thursday and am slowly recovering, every day feeling a little bit stronger.

The process began several months ago when I saw a Facebook post about a guy in the Detroit-area (we’ll call him Papa Phil) who was looking for a kidney.  He had launched a campaign on social media and somehow it ended up on my FB feed.  I still am not sure where I saw it because we don’t have any FB friends in common; I thought I saw it on a Cleveland Jewish FB Group but cannot find the post anywhere.

I sent a message to his son as directed by the post; he told me to contact the Kidney Donor Office at the Cleveland Clinic which I did.  They asked me a few questions and sent me an on-line questionnaire…which I figured, given my medical history, would be the end of it.  To my surprise, I was not disqualified right off the bat.  After a subsequent phone call with a nurse in the Transplant Center, I still was not disqualified.  

What we did find out, however, was that Papa Phil and I were not a match; our blood types are different.  I had a choice:  either I could walk away at this point, or I could stay in the process and be part of a swap; this means that a yet-to-be-determine John/Jane Doe who matched Papa Phil would give him a kidney, and my kidney would go to John/Jane’s intended recipient with whom they were not a match.  I figured that once the kidney was out it did not really matter to me as long as Papa Phil would get a kidney when all was said and done.

Within 24 hours I got a call from the Cleveland Clinic and we were setting up times for me to go to the Main Campus for a full work-up (top to bottom, inside and out).  During this time, I was intermittently in touch with Papa Phil’s son; we had a nice line of communication–not bad for a Buckeye fan and a Michigan fan!–but I understood well that Papa Phil probably had dozens of others who were already in process…and further ahead of me too.  I decided that from here on in I would not contact the family; partially, I did not want to put a “jinx” on things, but I also did not want to allow myself or him and his family to get too excited by the progress when I knew that well over 100 people had already been disqualified or had backed out.

In mid-April, shortly after Passover I went in for my first day of testing.  The day did not start well.  First stop was the lab where I was to have a blood draw…30 tubes actually–which if they had told me in advance might have been the end of the whole thing!  They got the blood but I nearly passed out.  Luckily the rest of the day was easier.  I came back a week later for the second round:  a full day of meeting with doctors, surgeons, and others.  It was the day of the all-important GFR test to determine my kidney function levels; in order to give away one kidney, there must be enough function in the remaining one to allow me to still be in the “normal” range.  The hope was that after that second day of testing, they would be able to present my case to the transplant team that Friday.  Due to a few tests that came back a little concerning (although ultimately not problematic), I had to do some follow-up tests; the coming week I had also been scheduled for a routine colonoscopy (unrelated to the kidney surgery) and the team wanted to wait for those results as well; everything got pushed back a week.

By this point, I was filled with a mix of emotions.  On the one hand, I had gone through so much testing that I was hoping I would qualify to donate just so it would not have been a waste of time.  I also know that Papa Phil had come very close to getting a kidney from a posthumous donation, but that had fallen through.  I was really committed to this and wanted it to happen.  On the other hand, no one was more shocked and surprised than me that I was still in the running.  I reasoned that either they were really desperate for kidneys…or I was in much better shape than I thought.


The day of the Transplant Team’s meeting came and went and I heard nothing.  I, of course, assumed that this was a “no,” and they just did not want to ruin my weekend.  Saturday came and went with no notice on My Chart either.  But the phone rang on Monday morning at 7:30 am with the news that I was qualified to donate.  No one was more shocked and elated than I.

The next day I got a text from Papa Phil’s son simply stating that he had received an interesting call from the Cleveland Clinic.  I responded with a text asking:  “Will he be busy on May 25?”  The phone rang and we shared our relief and joy together; it turns out that due to privacy laws they had no idea what my status was.  They were not even sure it was me that had been qualified.

After that, things moved rather quickly.  The same day I was told that surgery would be in 3 weeks, May 25–the day after my 58th birthday!  We would be part of a three-way swap; within the span of a couple of days, three people would donate (including me) and three people would receive (including Papa Phil)–all of us part of a daisy chain of mismatches willing to match for others.

I won’t get into the details of all the preparation that needed to take place in 3 short weeks, but it was a mad dash for me to tell people who needed to know, arrange for substitutes for clients, and get legal stuff in order like a living will (signed at 4 pm the day before surgery!).  

On May 23, I went with my wife down to Columbus to see my kids to celebrate my birthday a day early.  My daughter baked an amazing cake, which luckily did not say “Farewell, Dad!”–although we did joke about it.  On the way out of Cleveland, we stopped in to meet Papa Phil and his wife face-to-face.  It was a short visit–maybe 15 minutes but I’ll remember it as long as I live.  What an amazing feeling to make this connection.  

You all know that I am a religious guy.  I still cannot figure out how I saw this post on Facebook.  I see so many requests for help on social media; why was I moved to act this time?  That will be the subject of an upcoming blog post, but I definitely think there has been some divine intervention in this whole process.  I have a few more thoughts on this subject, so stay tuned and thank you for sticking with this way-longer-than-usual post.

I am doing OK here, better every day.  Best of all, Papa Phil is doing great!!!  And we are both looking forward to the blessings that life ahead has to offer.

Have You Got Time for a Quickie?

1971 ... 'five minutes to nuclear self-destruct.'

We all know that we should be exercising. Many also know that the recommendation is 150 minutes of moderate to intense physical activity each week; for many people this works out to a half-hour workout five times per week. For many more people, however, it works out to no workout whatsoever; it is difficult to find those 150 minutes each week so rather than try to fit it into a schedule, we give up.

Research shows that there is actually benefit in doing a brief (or even very brief) workout. If it is impossible to find a half hour all at once, 10 minutes three times a day or five minutes 6 times a day–or any combination thereof–seems to work just as well. Even if the 150 minutes is not reached, there is always a benefit to working out no matter the length of time.

Of course, what happens during that “quickie” workout matters. AARP reported on this very topic on its website. There should be at least one minute of intense exercise during the workout that elevates the heart rate. Many, including myself, recommend incorporating High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) into a brief workout. For instance, a 5-minute walk (dancing, stationary bike, climbing stairs, etc.) could include 1 minute at a regular pace, 20 seconds fast, 1 minute back at regular pace, 20 seconds fast, 1 minute regular pace, 20 seconds fast, followed by 1 minute of cool down; that equals five minutes total with 1 minute total of high intensity. Such a workout could be scaled up to 8, 10, 15 or more. It also a good idea to mix it up and not do the same exercise every time; some light weights or even body-weight exercises can be intermingled with cardio too.

When it comes to taking care of ourselves, we all have plenty of excuses why we do not do a better job. A big one is the perception that it takes too long; we are simply too busy to devote the time to exercise. Short workouts take away that excuse. They are brief and can be very effective.

After all, who doesn’t have time for a Quickie?

As the Pandemic (hopefully) Winds Down, It’s Time to Get Back to Healthy Habits

It's Never Too Late to Create Healthy Habits

During the pandemic, many of us found it difficult to maintain healthy habits. In particular, eating and exercise became real challenges. Instead of packing a lunch or grabbing something at work in the cafeteria or a nearby restaurant (where portion control is potentially easier to control), most of us were at home with cupboards and fridges filled with food beckoning us throughout the workday. With many gyms closed and limitations imposed by social distancing, it was tough to keep up the workout routine without the switch to a virtual platform; being stuck at home also meant less walking and other activities that kept us moving. Most of us can see the results looking at the scale or in the mirror.

Now that the pandemic seems to be in its waning stage, what is the plan? How do we get back to good health and good habits? These questions are especially compelling for older adults, many of whom have been vaccinated and are eager to get out there and start “living” again.

Leave it to AARP to produce another excellent Bulletin with two great articles. The first one entitled “60 Ways to Live Longer, Stronger, Better,” offers a myriad of concrete steps older adults can take to get back on track including ways to boost brain and heart health, get back in shape, improve diet and relationships, be more resilient, and fight loneliness. 60 seems like a lot of suggestions, but they are broken down in such a way that the list actually seems do-able. The second article, “Exercise Al Fresco” is not yet available on-line, but is in print; it offers suggestions for ways to take advantage of fitness opportunities in the great outdoors. It was heartening to see that the article followed up on a blog post I wrote just four days ago entitled “Adult Playground?” That post discussed what is apparently a growing trend: playgrounds designed for older adults aimed at improving fitness; a sidebar in the article highlights AARP’s role in supporting this initiative.

The weather is improving. There are more and more opportunities (with increased vaccinations as well) to get back on track. 2020 was a disaster health-wise for so many of us; let’s make 2021 the year we recover and excel. Let’s make a plan to eat better, exercise, hydrate, and get plenty of rest. Building healthy habits leads to better outcomes–not just physically, but in so many other ways as well.

Adult Playground?

Playground Primary Colors

This is not as bad as it sounds. It is not a sleazy sex club, but rather the brainchild of a group called Friends in Action in Ellsworth, Maine (between Bangor and Bar Harbor).

We know that there are playgrounds in nearly every community for children so that they can get outside, exercise, use their muscles, meet friends, and have fun. Why not a playground for older adults who have the same needs? An article in The Ellsworth American describes the decade-long effort to make this a reality. The playground will have eight pieces of equipment, some of which will even be wheelchair accessible. The cost for the project is about $80,000; Friends in Action raised the funds from individual donations, a grant from AARP as well as a matching grant from the State of Maine.

I do not know if anything like this exists anywhere else, but it is a project worth emulating. Many communities have health trails or outdoor equipment such as chin-up bars, obstacles, etc., but these are usually designed for younger individuals and others who may not have mobility issues. Considering the aging population in the United States, it will be interesting to see if Senior Playgrounds become more popular.

Over and over again, research shows that the more active adults remain, the better their long-term health outcomes. Many older adults “settle” for walking (which is great!), but could benefit from equipment that works to maintain and strengthen muscles. Senior Playgrounds help to meet this need; they also send the message that older adults are just as valued as children in the community. How often do we hear that?

Let me know if you hear of other communities with Senior Playgrounds.

Certified Personal Trainer Anniversary

Golden Gate Bridge 75th Anniversary Celebrations

That certainly snuck up on me. Today is the 3rd year anniversary of my becoming a Certified Personal Trainer.

I remember all the preparation that went into getting my certification. First, there was 10+ years of working with some excellent personal trainers who not only helped me to improve my level of fitness, but also modeled professionalism along with kindness and care. Next was a class at The Ohio State University in Columbus (where I lived at the time) to help me prepare for the exam; I remember that I was easily the youngest one in the class by 3 decades. Finally, there was a LOT of studying; I “fondly recall” my youngest daughter quizzing me with flashcards. The big day arrived, I went to the testing center, and after about 75 minutes hit the “submit your answers” tab. I was expecting to get my results immediately and then freaked out when it took me to a brief survey on the test-taking experience…after which I finally received the big “Congratulations!” I was so happy and relieved that I actually cried.

It was a long journey from being the unathletic kid always picked last to be on a team to the 30-something who began working with a personal trainer to the guy who worked out 6 days a week to the guy who entered and completed triathlons, 5Ks, obstacle course races, and half-marathons. To be certified as a Personal Trainer would have seemed as likely to my younger self as flying to Jupiter. I had, however, set a goal for myself and worked hard to reach it.

The last 3 years involved moving to a new city and beginning to work primarily in the fitness industry. I am thankful to the JCC here in Cleveland for providing me the opportunity to learn and gain experience. I am grateful to the folks at Service Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE) who mentored me as I prepared to go into business for myself. I am appreciative of the vendors who have assisted me with my website, and the Cleveland Eastside Senior Network for camaraderie and referrals. I value my clients (one-on-one and group) as well as those who read my blog. Most importantly, I am grateful to my wife and family who have supported me through this unusual journey.

What is next? I look forward to continuing to grow my business. In particular, I plan to expand my footprint in the group fitness realm as well as making on-line content available for older adults. Thank God my health is great which allows me to keep doing the work I do. I hope to continue to make a positive impact on those around me.

I look forward to the next 3 year and beyond!

Ageism is Everywhere

Rocking Chairs at Historic Poole Forge

I recently took a continuing education course through the Functional Aging Institute (through which I have a Functional Aging Specialization) about Ageism. What was most compelling about the presentation was the ways in which it showed ageism at work in subtle and not so subtle ways in our society and in the fitness industry. I have chosen a career as a Personal Trainer working specifically with older adults; my business is called At Home Senior Fitness. Even so, I learned a lot about the topic and am more aware now of the language I use, the way that I communicate non-verbally, and even some of my own attitudes toward older adults.

Several years ago, I read the book Growing Bolder by Marc Middleton; it was suggested to me by an instructor from FAI and it has really shaped the way that I view aging in general–and my own aging process in particular. Middleton argues that our culture glorifies youth (not a surprise) and that media, the arts, and business promote an image of the elderly as frail, unsophisticated, confused, and with little to offer. Older adults in our society are damaged goods. This is not true in other parts of the world where older adults are venerated. I do not know if I expect veneration, but it is better than what we offer seniors currently.

Middleton asks us to rethink the structures that promote this reality. He challenges us to consider our own aging process in a more positive and creative way. I will admit that I do fight the aging process every day: working out, under eye cream, etc., but I think much more optimistically about the process now. I find jokes about older adults being forgetful or falling apart to be less funny. Instead I think about all the possibilities ahead and the ways I can use the wisdom gained over the last 50+ years. I also think about the amazing older adults who showed the world just how valuable they could be: Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sir Anthony Hopkins, Keith Richards!!!

Imagine my dismay when I opened a magazine recently (a freebie that gets delivered to my home every other month) and saw what I believe to be a very ageist approach in an article about Older Americans Month. Here is the quote:

“This year’s theme is Communities of Strength, recognizing the important role older adults play in fostering the connection and engagement that build strong, resilient communities. Strength is built and shown not only by bold acts, but also small ones of day-to-day life — a conversation shared with a friend, working in the garden, trying a new recipe, or taking time for a cup of tea on a busy day.  And when we share these activities with others, even virtually or by telling about the experience later, we help them build resilience too.”

While this is all true, it presents an image of older adults as incapable of building strong and resilient communities through activism, volunteering, holding public office, participating in (or leading) a fitness class, etc. None of the “bold” acts are enumerated–only the “day-to-day” ones. Why is the emphasis on trying a new recipe or tending the garden? Methinks ageism is at work here. If this kind of content appears in a magazine article aimed at older adults, discussing a special project promoted by an organization that serves older adults, something is seriously wrong.

Maybe next year, I will put myself out there and demonstrate some of those “bold acts” that we older adults are engaged in. In the meantime, today alone I have two fitness classes to teach, clients to train, and a graduating college senior to counsel on a possible career choice. I may just miss that cup of tea….

Get Your Colon Cancer Screening!

Stop Cancer Sign Car Bumper Sticker Decal 5'' x 5'' | eBay

Yesterday I had my biennial colonoscopy–a little early, since the last one was in August of 2019. You may recall that I blogged about it back then.

I really do not mind having my colonoscopy. The prep is way better than it used to be; the day before yesterday was Miralax mixed with Powerade Black Cherry and it was impossible to taste the difference from plain Powerade. The drugs during the procedure were, as usual, great and I remember nothing. Best of all, the doctor found initially that there seems to be no disease activity (I am in remission from Crohn’s Disease) nor signs of cancer; several biopsies were taken and those results will be out later this week.

In the meantime, here is another reminder to get your colon screening after age 50. A colonoscopy is not the only screening out there; ask your doctor for his/her recommendation. Colonoscopies are about 94% accurate in their findings, which is pretty good odds! The process is not so much fun, but two days of inconvenience and some discomfort is way better than having to undergo cancer treatment.

In general, as we age, it is recommended to get out in front of all the recommended health screenings. The success stories we hear about people diagnosed with cancer are much more common when the disease is caught early. So get that colonoscopy, prostate screening, mole check, mammogram, etc.

It isn’t necessarily fun, but I’m told it’s more fun than cancer.

That Spare Tire…

Dinky Spare Tire

No. Not that spare tire.

CNN recently reported on a difference you might see the next time you see your doctor. Instead of just getting weighed and perhaps calculating your BMI (Body Mass Index), the nurse may measure your waist circumference. Why?

Weight that is carried around the abdomen is especially dangerous. It is an indicator of VAT (Visceral Adipose Tissue). This is more than just the “jelly” you see around your waist; VAT often wraps itself around internal organs and is associated with higher levels of cardiovascular disease.

This is not news per se; we have long known that this kind of fat is dangerous. What is new is the increase that has been seen over the last year–many assume due to the COVID-19 “nineteen.” Some people may have actually put on 19 pounds during the pandemic (due to sitting at home with a house full of food coupled with less activity); even if we have put on less, it is important to realize that the added weight is not just a matter of changing how our clothes fit or our appearance. It has serious health consequences–which is why doctor’s offices are increasingly measuring waist circumference.

We also have different body types. Some folks carry their weight in their bottoms or legs. In any case, eating properly and maintaining a healthy weight and BMI is always a good idea. For those of us–myself included–who are relatively slim but put on weight right in the belly, though, we should be especially cognizant of the risks of VAT.

The article is definitely worth the read. It is not long and it gives easy instructions on how to measure waist circumference and how to interpret what you find.

Knowledge is power…and, in this case, it is also a tool for reaching better health outcomes. Check that spare tire!

If Not Now, When?

Hourglass

Rabbi Hillel, one of the greatest teachers in Jewish tradition (110 BCE-10 CE), is the author of the well-known saying: “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, what am I? If not now, when?”

This pithy expression asks us to examine our role in the world, where we fit in. Although these words are over 2000 years old, they are compelling today as well. We must be willing to put in the effort to advance ourselves; we should not rely on others to look out for us. At the same time, we should not be so self-centered that we forget our obligations to those around us. Finally, there is a time to philosophize over these matters, and a time to act.

It occurs to me that Hillel’s words do not just address our spiritual or emotional status, but our physical well-being as well. As readers of this blog know, the interplay between body and soul in Judaism is a fascinating one. Our tradition recognizes that body and soul need each other; our souls require a body to “house” them during our sojourn on earth, and our bodies would only be dust (according to Genesis 1) were it not for the soul.

When it comes to our health and fitness, it is up to each of us to make sure that we care for the body given to us by God. We must make sure that we eat properly, exercise, and get appropriate rest; we cannot abuse our bodies and expect someone else (a medical professional, a personal trainer, a magician?) to make it all better. We also run the risk of being so concerned with our own physical wellness that we forget about the needs of others. This is a natural human instinct; we are afraid to give up something of our own lest we need it later. It is not a zero sum game, though; for one person to be healthy does not mean that someone else has to be denied access to healthcare, good food, vaccines, etc. There is enough to go around (at least in the United States) if we have the will to make it so. Finally, we should not put off taking better care of ourselves for later when we think we will have more time, or more energy, or feel more motivated.

This last point is perhaps the most important. A journey of a thousand miles begins with just one step. That step may be joining a gym, downloading an app to eat more healthfully, simply going on a walk, or scheduling a mammogram or colon cancer screening. We can come up with hundreds of reasons for why we cannot do this or that when it comes to fitness and health; sadly, we often come to know the danger of putting things off only when it is too late.

If not now, when? Whether I am only for myself or only for others is a moot point if I never act. Hillel asks us to think about ourselves and about others; even more importantly, that thought must move to action. Our health and welfare should always be a priority. Let us treat them as such by not waiting any longer to be the best version of ourselves–emotionally, spiritually, relationally, and physically. If not now, when?

The Health Hazard Posed by Racism

RACISM

Over the last few years–but certainly more intensely since the killing of George Floyd–our nation has begun to recognize the serious damage that has been caused by racism. The brunt of that damage, of course, has been felt by minority groups, but many recognize that racism harms all of us.

Although I consider myself an open-minded and empathetic person (who happens to belong to a minority group too), I do not fully understand the challenges faced by others who do not look like me. I have been shielded from much of the hatred, violence, and injustice. The last couple of years have made me more aware of the insidious ways in which racism has infected every corner of society; it has impacted jobs, public safety, self-esteem, the arts, and politics to name just some areas. I have become more attuned to how widespread the problem is.

As someone who is in an allied health profession, I know that the health challenges faced by minorities are different than those faced by the rest of society. Yes, there are certain diseases that are endemic in various communities (Sickle-Cell Anemia among African-Americans and Tay-Sachs among Jews), but socioeconomic conditions almost always contribute to worse health outcomes as well. For instance, lack of access to fresh fruits and vegetables in some neighborhoods while fast-food is readily available affects poorer Americans more than others. Scarcity of affordable housing and healthcare as well as substandard education can also contribute to the problem.

An article published last week on http://www.nbcnews.com highlights a recent statement by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (the CDC) that calls racism a “serious threat” to public health. In particular, the CDC claims that racism has “profound and negative impact on communities of color” and is contributing to disproportionate mortality rates among people of color. The article is worth a read for its explanation of why exactly this is an issue. Racism in our society has contributed to the very challenges listed above. One cannot help but pause to consider why minority groups suffer worse health outcomes across a variety diseases (when comparing apples to apples).

I have not read the report from the CDC yet, but from my experience as a personal trainer I know that people from lower socio-economic status are less likely to be able to afford a gym membership, fitness equipment, or access to a trainer. Many minority groups find themselves in that lower socio-economic segment; racism since the birth of this nation has certainly contributed to that overlap.

As a country, we must continue to confront our sad and on-going legacy of racism. As we do, we will more fully understand the myriad ways in which it affects its victims. Ultimately, it affects all of us; as we have seen with COVID-19, viruses do not understand skin color, national origin, sexual orientation, or political affiliation. How is it then that minority communities were so disproportionately affected by the pandemic? Let us be aware of the role that racism plays in all of this; until we recognize it, we cannot hope to find solutions.