in digital imaging"
A son makes sure his father stays in his life.
Special to the Jewish News
Brianna Kovan needed
to write a paper in her
Okemos, Mich., school
about "heroes," the assignment was
She wrote how her father donated
bone marrow to try to save her uncle's
life and, 10 years later, donated one of
his kidneys to improve her grandfa-
ther's quality of life.
Brianna's brother Zachary, 6, echoed
her sentiments when he visited his
grandfather in the hospital.
"My daddy is our hero," he
There's no doubt in the Kovan fami-
ly that Dr. Jeff Kovan, 42, Michigan
State University's director of sports
medicine, with a private practice in the
Okemos-Lansing area, is a hero. But to
him and his father, Dr. Tom Kovan,
69, of West Bloomfield, a retired
pathologist, the kidney transplant
seems to be no big deal.
Now, almost six months after the
surgery at the University of Michigan
Hospital in Ann Arbor, they are both
pretty much back to normal with no
complications. As doctors, they've both
always marveled at the powers of med-
ical science, and they've become part of
The number of living organ donors
in the U.S. is climbing fast as patients,
desperate for transplants, are turning
to family members, friends, even
acquaintances or co-workers for vitally
needed organs. There were 6,613 liv-
ing donors last year — more than
triple the number in 1990 — accord-
ing to the United Network for Organ
About 20 million people have some
type of kidney disease, and more than
50,000 are waiting for a transplant,
usually from a cadaver, which could
take three to five years. A living donor,
especially a family member, makes a -
Jeff Kovan's first heroic act was giving
bone marrow to his brother, Dr.
Bradley Kovan, who had developed
Drs. Tom and Jeff Kovan are more than
father and son.
"My bone-marrow compatibility
tested best," he said, recalling how it
required 40 needle jabs into the bone.
Bradley lived four more years, get-
ting married, and seeing a daughter,
Abby, 9, born to his wife, Juliann, now
of Beverly Hills. He died at age 34 in
When Tom Kovan, experiencing
high blood pressure, weakness and
fatigue, developed chronic kidney dis-
ease seven years ago and faced the
prospect of dialysis three times a week,
or a long wait for a cadaver kidney, Jeff
came to the rescue again. Tom passed a
six-hour kidney-transplant eligibility
test at U-M, and the search began in
the Kovan family for an eligible donor.
Tom's wife Barbara almost made the
grade, but their three children and
even three nieces and nephews also
were eligible. Being a new mother of
triplets, daughter Terri Haddad of
Franklin was ruled out, as was another
son, Dr. Eric Kovan of West
Bloomfield, just starting a family and a
new medical practice.
'As the oldest sibling, I felt it was
my responsibility to provide the kidney
— I just wanted to do it," Jeff related.
"My wife, Jessica and children were
naturally concerned so we discussed it,
and also went through evaluations
from social workers at U-M.
"I felt the world would be a better
place with my father still in it, so I did
this to make sure and keep him in it.
He's a quiet guy and we all respect
him, and would do anything for him.
And my mother is happy and thrilled."
Tom Kovan points out that the
chance of Jeff experiencing similar kid-
ney problems is statistically remote.
Both of them had remarkably short
recuperative periods because they have
been physically fit all of their lives.
"Of course, I told Jeff I'll always be
grateful," said Tom. "Now, I want to
make sure other people get educated
about the urgent need for transplants
of all organs. They should think about
being a donor either in life or upon
An avid golfer and walker, Tom's
back doing both, plus working part
time — while taking 18 pills a day,
including three anti-rejection pills
which he will need the rest of his life.
His old kidneys remain inside, and will
Jeff, who also is MSU's sports team
physician, has returned to his activities,
including jogging. He recently did a
,10-mile run at a pace of 8:13 minutes
Jeff's deed is called pikuach nefesh,
said Rabbi Joseph Krakoff of
Congregation Shaarey Zedek in
Southfield, where Tom and Barbara are
"Saving a life in this way is one of
the highest forms of loving kindness
that one human being can do for
another," the rabbi said. "There's an
especially great emotional attachment
when it's performed within a family."
In a Yom Kippur sermon, Rabbi
Krakoff urged congregants to forsake
phony public heroes of today and find
heroes in their own family. In Jeff
Kovan, members of the Kovan family
have found theirs. El
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