Congregants Doing Well After Kidney Transplant

Sep. 26, 2005. Surgeons successfully removed a kidney from congregant Suzanne Weiner and tranplanted it into fellow congregant Heather Bonime, family members said. [UPDATED SEPT. 29]

Weiner and Bonime are both doing well following the five-hour operations performed at UPMC Montefiore on Sept. 26. Weiner donated one of her two kidneys to Bonime, who has polycystic kidney disease (PKD), a genetic, life-threatening disease in which multiple cysts slowly replace kidney mass, reducing kidney function and leading to kidney failure.

“Everything went well,” said Jonathan Bonime, Heather’s husband. “The kidney is functioning well. As of now, it’s the best we could hope for.”

Bonime, of Uppper St. Clair, is expected to be discharged from the hospital on Friday, Sept. 30. Bonime previously said that she will be housebound for at least eight weeks on account of the risk of infection.

Brotherhood President Jeff Weiner, Suzanne’s husband, reported that his wife is doing well. Weiner went home from the hospital on Thursday, Sept. 29.

Jonathan Bonime said that he and is family appreciate the Caring Community’s offer of assistance, but that it is unnecessary. Heather Bonime’s friends outside of Temple already arranged to provide the familiy with meals for almost two weeks.

Last November, doctors told Bonime that she had two choices: a kidney transplant or a lifetime of dialysis.

Bonime could not look to her husband, Jonathan; her children, Josh and Lauren; or other family members to donate a kidney, due to medical reasons. Bonime’s family has a history of PKD. More than 20 family members have been burdened with the disease.

Unable to rely on her family, Bonime had to turn to strangers for the precious gift of a kidney.

Weiner, another Temple member at the time, and four other volunteers came forward after reading Rabbi Mark Mahler’s article about Bonime that was posted on the Temple Web site and published in the May Temple Bulletin. The article had been circulated to other rabbis and congregations in Pittsburgh and elsewhere, Bonime explained.

Weiner, of South Fayette Township, said that after she read Rabbi Mahler’s message on the Web site and later in the Bulletin, she could not shake the feeling that donating her kidney was something she could and should do.

Weiner said she felt lucky to have a wonderful family and home, even though their family suffered problems of their own when flooding from Hurricane Ivan caused severe losses to their family grocery business last fall. She said that she wanted to give a complete stranger the same chance that she has to see children and grandchildren grow up, knowing that she can live with only one functioning kidney.

“It takes a special person to want to do this,” Bonime previously said of her kidney transplant. “I think [Suzanne’s] incredible. She’s basically saving my life.”

Weiner and Bonime met over the summer. Weiner learned that her eldest daughter, Chelsea, and Bonime’s 16-year-old son had attended Torah Center together since second grade and were both members of the COYOTE youth group for high school students. Weiner said that connection left no doubt that she should go forward with the kidney donation.

Blood work revealed that Weiner was a match. Since that time, Weiner underwent a battery of tests, leading up to the kidney transplant. Weiner’s kidney was removed lathroscopically with four incisions. Bonime received the kidney in the operating room next door.

PKD is known as a “silent disease,” because it is an internal disorder that does not have a dramatic affect on a person’s outward appearance, Bonime said. PKD affects more than 600,000 Americans and an estimated 12.5 million people worldwide, according to the PKD Foundation. PKD affects more people than cystic fibrosis, muscular dystrophy, hemophilia, Down syndrome and sickle cell anemia combined, the foundation reports.

Out of all of this, Weiner and Bonime said they are pleased that they have developed a friendship. They talk about every 10 days. They went to breakfast together after early morning visits to the lab for bloodwork. Their families have gotten together for picnics.

In fact, Chelsea Weiner joined Josh Bonime and Jonathan Bonime in a “Kidney Walk” to raise money for the National Kidney Foundation on Sept. 24 in Schenley Park. Jonathan and Josh Bonime, known as “Team Bonime,” raised more than $8,500 for the National Kidney Foundation.

– By Bill Labovitz