Life-saving kidney transplants resume

After years of being hooked up to a dialysis machine, 78-year-old Lawrence Rauch received the gift of life last Thursday.

“Today was a milestone, I got up and went to the bathroom because I haven’t done that in three and a half years. It’s kind of great,” Rauch said.

The Former Saddle River fire chief needed a life-saving kidney transplant, but like so many others when COVID-19 hit New Jersey, he was told he had to wait.

“Organ transplant was significantly reduced for combination of patient safety, as well as preserving the resources for the community to help take care of COVID patents,” said Dr. Michael Goldstein.

Goldstein is the director of Abdominal Organ Transplantation at Hackensack University Medical Center and Rauch’s kidney doctor. He says his hospital couldn’t risk exposing transplant patients to COVID-19.

“There were concerns that organ transplant would be dangerous because of the immunosuppression and we weren’t exactly sure how to best protects patients at the time,” he said.

Goldstein says more than 200 patients were on hold for a kidney transplant for nearly three months due to the pandemic.

“It’s a terrible thing to have to wait on a waiting list knowing your life is at risk and waiting for that life-saving organ,” Goldstein said. “I would say we most likely have lost a few patients waiting on the waiting list due to COVID.”

Goldstein says everyone is tested for COVID under new safety measures.

“We decided to test all the staff to make sure that they’re safe as well. We test all patients when they come in to make sure they’re not coming in asymptomatic with the disease. We put protocols together to make sure that we’re not exposing patients, in terms of having protective gear to wear,” he said.

The hospital has performed nine transplants since reactivating the waiting list and surgeries at the end of May. Angelina Aminova was one of them. She says she still cannot believe she received the gift of life last Monday. It’s a long nightmare she can now put behind her.

Goldstein says while he’s relieved to restart transplants, the supply may be a little low. There’s been a drop in living organ donors due to fears of getting COVID. Now that transplant surgeries can resume, he stresses that hospitals are safe and encourages those considering giving the gift of life to do it.