Gift Of Life
After 20 years of disease, a kidney transplant has changed Dr. Robin Ehrmann's life.
Special to the Jewish News
he outpouring of support
was unbelievable for Robin
Ehrmann. She needed a
kidney transplant to lead a
"It never occurred to me there were
so many people willing to do some-
thing so completely wonderful by
donating a kidney, giving someone else
a new lease on life. Patients were volun-
teering their kidney via voice mail,
women in their 80s were telling me
now it was their turn to help me out,
and many were complete strangers who
were simply volunteering to help me."
Dr. Ehrmann was fortunate. Three
people were found as possible matches.
The first volunteer didn't quite match,
but the second volunteer was consid-
ered viable. Many people wait two to
five years for cadaver kidneys and need
to go on dialysis during the interim.
"I'm telling my story because I want
more people to realize that they can be
a living kidney donor," says Dr.
Ehrmann of West Bloomfield. "There
is no cure for kidney failure, except for
a new kidney. People can live on one
kidney. In fact, some are born with
"More importantly, the odds are
much greater that a person like me has
a greater chance of survival with a kid-
ney from a live donor as opposed to a
cadaver kidney. My success rate would
be even further reduced if I had to be
on dialysis two-to-three times a week."
That her kidneys were failing was no
surprise to Dr. Ehrmann, a physician,
wife and mother. What did surprise her
was how quickly they were deteriorat-
ing this past year.
Dr. Ehrmann was diagnosed with kid-
ney disease in 1982. For the next 20
years, her visits to the nephrologist — a
physician specializing in kidney disor-
ders — were an integral part of her life.
"When I was first diagnosed, I
thought my life had come to an end,"
says- Dr. Ehrmann. "I researched the
disorder, denied my condition for sev-
eral years and then learned to cope and
live with my condition. I did fairly well
Dr.- Robin Ehrmann looks over some reports at home.
by keeping my blood pressure under
control and staying as healthy as I
could by eating correctly, exercising and
engaging in a healthy lifestyle.
"My goal was to prevent or at the
least not to accelerate my condition. As
a result, I was able to live a normal,
busy life these past 20 years — or so I
What Dr. Ehrmann hadn't realized
was that she had accommodated her
condition by changing her life style —
fitting naps into her daily routine,
adjusting her schedule because she
would tire easily and giving more time
to preserving her health.
"In November , I was told to
start looking for another kidney," says
Dr. Ehrmann and her husband, Dr
Paul Ehrmann, devised a plan to keep
her need for a new kidney very quiet.
For the first time, they told their fami-
lies about Robin's condition.
"It was very difficult, because as
physicians we are accustomed to help-
ing others; asking help for myself was
against our nature," explained Robin
Within a couple of months, Dr.
Ehrmann told some of her patients that
she was looking for a kidney donor and
Rabbi Elliot Pachter at Congregation
B'nai Moshe was also informed. Last
February, Rabbi Pachter announced at
Shabbat services that someone in the
congregation was looking for a kidney
donor; the same announcement was
made in the synagogue's newsletter.
"Several members came forward,"
says Rabbi Pachter. "In Judaism, it is
permitted, but not mandatory, after
death to save a life. Moreover, if one is
in the position to donate an organ to
save another's life, it is obligatory to do
so, as long as you are not placing your
own life at risk."
As a result of these quiet efforts,
many people came forward and offered
a kidney — patients, congregants,
neighbors and family.
Kidneys are bean-shaped organs tucked
under the rib cage in the back of the
body near the spine. The kidneys regu-
late body fluids so they are not too
acidic or alkaline, filtering blood plas-
ma and excreting waste products by
producing urine and making hormones
that tell the bone marrow to make red
Without properly functioning kid-
neys, waste products build up in the
blood system, resulting in uremic poi-
soning, which can be fatal.
"Fortunately, there is now a drug
called EPO (recombinant human
erthropoetin) that can be given to
patients with kidney failure," says Dr.
Jeffrey Punch, associate professor of
surgery and chief of transplantation at
the University of Michigan Medical
Health System. "It is the same hor-
mone that healthy kidneys make, elimi-
nating the need for a transfusion every
five to seven weeks."
The kidney transplanted to Dr.
Ehrmann was from a live, unrelated
donor. "A living potential donor must
undergo a thorough medical evaluation
to see whether it is possible for him or
her to donate a kidney," says Dr. Alan
Leichtman, medical director of kidney
and pancreas at the University of
Michigan Health System. "The donor
must also be a match with the recipient
in blood type, be healthy and under-
stand the risks and benefits of being an
"Thankfully, live donor transplanta-
tion has become increasingly common
due to the success of the procedure and
the shortage of cadaveric organs. This
has become even more important
because of the increasing incidence of
kidney disease due to lifestyle issues and
"Living donations allow the immedi-
ate transplantation of kidneys into
recipients so operations can be sched-
uled efficiently once a suitable living
donor has been identified. This avoids
the long waiting times encountered
with cadaveric donation."
The kidney donated to Robin
Ehrmann was removed using a mini-
mally invasive procedure called laparo-
scopic nephrectomy. "Laparoscopic sur-
gery minimizes the trauma of access to
internal organs by avoiding a long inci-
sion through the muscles, eliminating
many post-operative problems and
GIFT OF LIFE on page 26