When Navigating Turbulent Waters, Be Sure to Have a Friend at Your Side

Hi, I am Meryl Wassner, Gary’s sister-in-law.  As you can imagine, with Gary being Marti’s life partner for 30 years, we have spent much time together, experiencing all of the life cycle events, many holiday celebrations, sporting events, and family milestones. On the livingdonorlove home page, I am standing between Ben, Gary’s step-son, and Marti herself as we celebrated Bret’s graduation from the University of Illinois. There was no prouder father than Gary on that memorable day, standing with his son, at his own alma mater!

This past week I have been reflecting on a very special experience that Gary and I shared over 20 years ago that revealed a side of Gary which caught me by surprise and made me smile…and still does.

Marti and Gary would invite me to dinner every year on my birthday. Marti would prepare my favorite meal and ask what I wanted to do to celebrate. This particular year, the Omni-Max theatre was showing the feature about the Grand Canyon… in full blown three-D, which was a brand new innovation at the time. (I know, I am showing my age!)

Immediately after a scrumptious meal, just Gary and I headed into the city for our big night. We had both been told that both the three D and the alignment of the seats (90 degrees, straight up) in the theatre made the experience of watching VERY close to the real thing. Well, we had NO IDEA what was coming….

Within five minutes of the lights going down, the sound of the thundering rapids of the south rim surrounding us and the rocking of our canoe from side to side had us both screaming and laughing at the top of our lungs. We each spontaneously grab for each other’s hand to prevent one another from falling into the rapids! So much fun!

It seems Gary is still riding the waves, at times being taken into rough waters without being certain of the outcome. Well, we are here to say that he will NEVER be alone in the canoe. 

Much love, Meryl

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Learn more about Living Kidney Donations at this local event

Learn more about Living Kidney Donations at this local event

Living Kidney Donation Presentation
Monday, February 17th
Northbrook, IL.


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Valentines Day – National Donor Day


Valentines Day is about showing love.  National Donor Day is about showing love in more than just the traditional way.  People can save lives through blood donations, marrow drives and organ donation.

On any given day, 112,998 people are waiting for an organ; on any given day, 18 of those people die waiting.

Gary needs to find a living donor kidney within the next six months. You can help us spread the word or connect us with someone who may want to donate. Please visit us at livingdonorlove@gmail.com.

Photo Source

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My Beshert, My Soul Mate

ImageHi.  I am Marti, Gary’s wife.  This May 12th it will be thirty years since the day we met.  While much time has passed, I can remember the day we met like it was yesterday.

One day the phone rang as I was unpacking boxes; I had just moved into a new apartment as a single mom with my son, Ben.  It was my good friend and message therapist, Meg.  She told me she knows a guy that I might want to meet.  Would it be OK if she gave him my number? she asked.  With much trepidation, since I was just recently divorced, was working full time, had just moved, and was raising my two year old son as a single mom, I said, OK, but only if she made it clear to him that I have no interest in a serious relationship.  I would be willing to grab a meal or catch a movie, I explained.

A few days later the phone rang and it was this stranger, Gary, on the other end of the phone.   We had a good chat.  He seemed nice enough.  Then he asked me if I would like to get together.  I told him that would be fine but could he please call me back in a month. Surrounded by boxes, I was overwhelmed in our new apartment. With that, we got off the phone.

Exactly one month later the phone rang.  It was Gary again.  He asked if I wanted to come to Lincoln Park for a day at the zoo and a bite to eat. I agreed.

We rendezvoused at his place.  We walked, talked, laughed, ate, visited with the animals.  I knew that day we shared a special connection.  Never in a million years did I imagine that 30 years later we would still be sharing good times together.

Thank you, Meg, for introducing me to my Beshert.  Such a loving, kind, honest, fun, smart, romantic man named Gary.

Don’t get me wrong, it hasn’t all been fun, that is for sure.  Work and worries, joy and sorrow, dealing with small and big problems, navigating compromise – oh so much compromise, these years together.

But in the end, I feel like I am one of the luckiest gals around, to have partnered thirty years of my life with this man.

From the bottom of my heart, from the core of my being, I pray that some courageous, loving, generous person will step up and share their spare with my wonderful husband, my Beshert.

We have so much more life to share together, if we are just given the chance.

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BJBE Walks the Talk

Our synagogue has traveled alongside us every step of the quest to find a living donor kidney.  If we were to name all of the ways BJBE has supported us, the list would be a mile long. 

The fact that they sent an e-mail to the entire 1100 member congregation asking people to help spread the word and/or consider donating a kidney to Gary is, of course, a critical task and therefore, incredibly important to our family. Less measurable, though, is how these actions make us feel, deep inside.

BJBE members, staff and clergy have made us feel valued, loved, and cared about.  That is what the people at BJBE do.  They care about one another.  They help one another.  They stand by each other in the good times and the bad. 

If you ever have the opportunity to be in the Village Center at BJBE on a busy Sunday, you will hear the laughter, witness planning sessions for some cutting-edge program, and find people in the David Wax Chapel filling their souls in that beautiful spiritual space. There is nothing more powerful in life than the sacred relationship we build with one another. 

We are so grateful to be part of this wonderful, loving and vibrant Jewish Community.  When a living donor kidney is found and the transplant is completed, we look forward to celebrating life for years to come, renewed by our BJBE family.

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Share Your Spare- Gary Greenberg

Help Gary Greenberg find a Live Kidney Donor, so he can see his sons walk down the aisle, hold his grandchildren, and learn and grow with his patients. Chicago, IL livingdonorlove.com

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Call to Action – Share Your Spare – Please Help

I am writing to you today because we have only 6 months left to find a living donor kidney for my husband Gary.  Many of you have asked what can you do to help.

Team Gary met on Sunday and we outlined a comprehensive campaign for our final 6 month  push to find a donor.  Below is a list of many different ways you and your family can help. You can live in any state of the united states and still help.  The living donor can live anywhere. Please help.  Let us know if you are willing and able to do any of the following:

1. We will launch our You Tube video this Thursday, telling our story.  If anyone would like a copy of our video to show at any event or meeting to help spread the word.

2. We have large Sandwich Boards asking for a donor.  If anyone would be willing to volunteer their time to walk a high traffic area wearing the sandwich board.

3. We want to advertise on a Billboard.  If anyone has contacts with people who own those advertising billboards.

4. If you are affiliated with a Synagogue or a Church, we can provide you with a packet of information to share with your spiritual community. Even if you are not but you would be willing to help us reach out to faith based groups.

5. If you are an Alum of University of Illinois, University of Chicago or Illinois Institute of Technology.  We are trying to get the word out to Gary’s three alma maters

6. If you have any contacts with Deerfield H.S., Glenbrook North High School, Glenbrook South High School and have thoughts about how the high school students and their families could help.

7. Spring To Action – Rally and Canvassing Campaign (Share Your Spare Day) will take place in April or May.  If you would like to help organize this event. Certainly hope you will all attend.

8. If you have any Radio, Television or Print contacts.

9. If you want to staff a Gary Table at BJBE.

10.  If you Like to Write and would like to write a 2 paragraph story/article to post on our website.

11. If you have any connections with the Rolling Stones.

12. If you have any Airport Advertising contacts.

13. If you belong to a Health Club and would be willing to ask them to display our information we can get you a packet of info.

14. Flash Mob – if you have any interest in organizing a flash mob with the Rolling Stones theme song we are using and film it.

15. Display Sign – if you are willing to take a sign to a Bulls game or a Blackhawks game to hold up asking for a kidney for Gary.

16. Display Sign Again – if you are willing to take a sign asking for a kidney for Gary and hold it outside of a window of a Major News Station.

If you are willing and able to help in any way, please contact Campaign Gary administrative assistant, Marcia Fox (my sister) at sassysisterof3@yahoo.com.

Thank you.



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The Birth of Team Gary

When Marti Greenberg found out her husband Gary needed to find a living kidney donor, and fast, she sent out an SOS e-mail to friends and family. People from Oregon, Virginia, New York, Florida, Wisconsin, state of Washington and the Chicagoland area jumped right in to help.  New friends, lifelong friends, sister in law, niece in law, cousin, neighbor, sons, colleagues, and BJBE friends have all rallied to help Gary find a living donor kidney.

The result? Team Gary.

The Team Gary members didn’t all know each other, but they figured out how to work together. They quickly listed the best of the best ideas and divvied up the responsibilities. They meet periodically and email often, sometimes daily.

Lorrie Weinberg is committed to Team Gary. “As a cousin and friend, I couldn’t sit on the sidelines and just watch Gary in his despair.  When I heard of Team Gary, I had to join in to help him find a living donor.”

“So many people help me each year with donations for the JDRF Walk for juvenile diabetes, which one of my granddaughters has had since she was two years old.,” explains Terry Sachsel, a BJBE friend. “This is one way to give back or pay it forward.”

“I can’t attend the meetings, but I can write and edit from my computer here in Portland,” says high school friend Liz Rabiner Lippoff.

Team Gary will gather again on January 19 to brainstorm every possible avenue available to successfully find a living donor kidney for Gary. The clock is ticking.  There are seven months left to find that loving, generous hero who will Share their Spare to help Gary live a longer, healthier life. Team Gary is convinced they can help make it happen.

“The Greenbergs are a caring, loving and incredibly generous family.  It is our turn to try to help them through this crises,” friend and neighbor Faith Keiden shares.

“Team Gary is an impressive group of angels,” she adds.  “The energy and hope generated here is quite meaningful and motivating.”

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Share a Thought on Share Your Spare Thursday

Wise Quotes from Pops, Part 1*

“You can pick your friends and you can pick your nose, but you can’t pick your friend’s nose.”

At first, this quote may strike you as a commentary on nasal hygiene.  But it goes far deeper than that.  Let’s take a closer look.

It’s true that you can pick who your friends are.  You may have a common interest, a common enemy or you just stumble upon a set of circumstances that leads down a path to friendship.  My dad has a few very close friends that he has known longer than I have been alive.  Once he picks his friends, it’s final.

The next part of the quote speaks to free will.  If you need to breathe a little better and a Kleenex simply won’t do, then who am I to judge?  You are free to do whatever you need to do.  I’m sure my dad would tell you to keep it private though.  Nobody wants to see that.

The third part of this wonderful quote speaks to how you treat your friends.  You can’t control what other people do.  Even if you’re a clinical psychologist!  If someone is truly your friend, you want to be supportive while also being honest with them about their choices.  You can’t pick what they do or pick their nose.  But you can offer them guidance when they need you.

* Gary’s son wants you to know a little bit more about what makes his dad so special, so he is sharing a series of “Quotes from Pops” with some of the wisdom that accompanies the laughter at Gary’s house. Please consider this thought as well: Share Your Spare!


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After surgery, kidney donor discovers personal connection to recipient

Suburban man didn’t realize his organ would help a former co-worker’s daughter

By Angie Leventis Lourgos and Bonnie Miller Rubin, Tribune reportersJanuary 3, 2014

Wanda Walker was distraught over her ailing daughter and frequently confided in a close co-worker who helped ease her pain. Unbeknown to both of them, that colleague would eventually save her daughter’s life.

Northwestern Medicine performed a chain of anonymous kidney transplants just before Christmas, with three living donors who all thought they were giving their organs to help strangers. By rare coincidence, one donor and recipient were already entwined before surgery: 31-year-old Alecia Walker of Chicago’s South Shore neighborhood now has the kidney of 33-year-old Kevin McCallister of Wood Dale, the man her mother once leaned on for support at work.

“Oh my goodness! Oh wow!” Wanda Walker, 55, repeated through tears after doctors revealed the benefactors to their kidney recipients last week at a follow-up appointment at Northwestern Memorial Hospital downtown. “This is her second chance.”

Alecia Walker embraced McCallister, her left side — now home to his kidney — grazing his left side, where the organ was removed. McCallister kissed her cheek and wished her good health.

Hospitals have performed these types of paired organ exchanges for more than a decade, with kidneys by far the most transplanted organ. Donors usually want to give organs to loved ones but find out they aren’t compatible; instead they end up donating to a stranger who is a match, and their loved one gets an organ from another unknown donor, creating a circle of anonymous givers and recipients.

This particular three-way dance at Northwestern was unusual because two families involved already knew each other. To be compliant with hospital and federal policy, the names of the donors and recipients were kept strictly confidential, ensuring that the gift was voluntary and free of coercion or any financial incentives.

The surgeries took place simultaneously in adjacent operating rooms, and identities were disclosed only after recovery with consent of all six participants.

“To my knowledge, this is the first time at Northwestern that an anonymous donor and a recipient pair ended up knowing each other prior to the transplant,” said Dr. Michael Abecassis, founding director of Northwestern’s Comprehensive Transplant Center. “The fact that … they will be connected in this way from now on was a pure and remarkable coincidence.”

The demand for kidneys is far greater than the supply. About 92,000 Americans are waiting for a compatible kidney, and the clock often ticks down before a match can be found. The typical wait for a deceased donor is four years, and in 2012, an estimated 12 patients died every day while on the wait list, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing, a national agency that manages organ allocation.

But these arranged swaps can often increase the odds of a transplant. There were 5,619 kidney transplants nationwide from living donors in 2012. Of those, 528 were the result of anonymous kidney exchanges. The largest one at Northwestern was an eight-way trade in 2010.

Alecia Walker wondered if she would be one of the lucky ones.

Her health had failed since 2007 due to Type 1 diabetes. Wanda Walker, typically quiet and reserved, opened up to McCallister about her daughter’s poor health at the real estate property management firm where they worked for about two years.

It wasn’t until after the co-workers parted ways in late 2010 that Wanda Walker learned her daughter was suffering from renal failure. Alecia Walker was dizzy and tired, which made it difficult to care for her 3-year-old daughter, Iyana.

Wanda Walker felt helpless. She had just had surgery herself, so doctors said it wouldn’t be safe to give her organ to her daughter.

“You’re not able to be there for her when she needs you,” she said. “That’s your kid.”

Then, in February, McCallister learned that his adopted brother, David McCallister, was diagnosed with a hereditary renal disorder and his kidney function had dwindled to about 1 percent. He was tethered to dialysis — a machine that cleanses the body of waste — which left him exhausted.

Kevin McCallister longed to give him a kidney.

“I’m sorry,” he said to his brother over the phone after learning they weren’t a match.

But with the help of one other donor, they could complete a circle.

Muriel Elder, 54, of Chicago’s Marquette Park neighborhood, suffered from polycystic kidney disease. She had already received one kidney from her husband, but her body later rejected it. Her daughter Jasmine Jeffries, a 30-year-old postal worker, wanted to donate but was incompatible.

But Jeffries was compatible with David McCallister.

So Kevin McCallister gave his kidney to Alecia Walker, whose boyfriend, David White, 32, gave his kidney to Muriel Elder, whose daughter Jasmine Jeffries gave her kidney to David McCallister.

“It was a miracle,” said David McCallister, who is still a little sore but otherwise feels great. After surgery he chugged a Pepsi and downed a block of pepper jack cheese — foods that were off-limits while he was on dialysis. “I can drink fluids again. I can eat cheese.”

While secrecy in the donor program is guaranteed, Kevin McCallister had his suspicions after eyeing his former colleague at the hospital before surgery. He remembered that Wanda Walker had a sick daughter and wondered if she would be the recipient.

When all patients are willing to be identified, Northwestern Medicine periodically arranges for them to meet. On Dec. 27, the participants sat in six chairs, waiting to hear whose organ was in whose body.

After the pairings were read by a doctor, the patients hugged and thanked one another, grateful for what they could give and receive.

“Even if my kidney isn’t going to (Alecia), it’s going to someone who needs it,” David White said. “Instead of just one person, it helped a roomful of people.”



Copyright © 2013 Chicago Tribune Company, LLC

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