Everyday Heroes: Giving life through kidney donation

Jonathan Cohen and Jen Feldman. (KATU Photo)

When Jen Feldman’s kidney was failing, she searched for a donor.

Her family and friends weren’t a match, but she never gave up hope and she found her hero: Jonathan Cohen.

Feldman and Cohen are both members of the same synagogue, Congregation Beth Israel in Northwest Portland.

But a year ago they were merely acquaintances who bumped into each other at Sunday school or during her yearly Taste of Temple fundraiser.

Then one day Cohen read a letter from Feldman sent to temple members. She needed a kidney donor.

“If you ask, you shall receive. And that you’ve got to be willing to ask,” said Feldman. “This is not something you can do on your own.”

Her family didn’t qualify to donate. She had to reach out to strangers. Cohen wanted to help.

“No, I didn’t really know much about kidney donation at all,” he said.

But he felt a connection.

“I don’t know what it was, but I think I turned to my wife after I hung up the call to kind of say I was interested. I was like, ‘It’s gonna be me,’” Cohen said.

But he didn’t even know if he was a match. For Feldman, who’d lost one kidney to cancer 20 years ago and whose other kidney was failing fast, time was not on her side.

“It really was a life and death situation for Jen,” said Cohen. “She really was down to the very last bit of her kidney function.”

After a bunch of tests of his physical and his emotional well-being, Cohen learned he was a match. That was good for Feldman, because her doctor had told her she should hope for a male kidney, because they’re bigger and she needed all the help she could get.

Said Cohen: “They said, ‘Hey, good news, you’ve passed all the tests. You’re a match, and we just have to get approval and you can donate. And by the way, you’re the only match.’ So that … just really gave me chills – like whoa, this is really serious and thrilling and exciting at the same time.”

The transplant was a success.

“I truly feel a miracle has happened in my life,” Feldman said. “I wake up every morning and think about, and go to bed every night and think about, that someone gave me a living organ to put in my body to save my life.”

And for Cohen, it added life to his days.

“Who doesn’t like being the hero in the movies or whatnot,” he said. “So to be able to be that in real life I thought was a pretty cool opportunity.”

Both Feldman and Cohen advocate for Donate Life Northwest. The local group has a living donor program that helps donors and recipients through the process.

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