Jen Feldman was born with medical challenges, but for many years, this wife, mother, and grandmother lived a mostly healthy, full life. For 30 years before retirement, she worked in development and fundraising, primarily with the Jewish community. She has a lust for life and a passion for serving.
In 1997, while on vacation, things began to change. Jen says, “If we listen to our bodies, they will give us hints.” And during her vacation, she got a sudden, strong feeling that she was really sick. She told her husband, Howard (pictured with her) and as soon as they returned home, she began seeing doctors. Four months later, Jen was diagnosed with kidney cancer. On Christmas Eve 1997, a surgeon removed Jen’s left kidney. The cancer had been encapsulated in her kidney and so she wouldn’t require chemo, but doctors had also seen a tumor known as an angiomyolipoma on her remaining kidney. It would need to be watched closely. A transplant might eventually be necessary.
A number of years passed before Jen’s kidney function declined enough for her to need a transplant. As her family struggled to come to terms with her illness, she reached out to her community at Congregation Beth Israel to let them know she needed support. They quickly rallied to help her. While one of her friends committed to sending Jen a note of encouragement each day, another family from Jen’s congregation went a step further. Because this family had gone through their own journey with kidney donation and transplant, they were moved to write a letter on Jen’s behalf. This letter was sent to all of the rabbis in the area and was eventually distributed throughout the whole Jewish community. It implored people to spread the word that Jen was looking for a donor. It worked. More than a dozen people were tested before a match was found. On April 18, 2017, Jen received a living donor kidney from Jonathan, a member of her congregation.
After her first transplant, Jen never felt quite right. Doctors and friends told her she was just adjusting to the new kidney, but just like years before when she was diagnosed with cancer, she knew something was wrong with her new kidney. Soon, she was again on the kidney transplant waiting list.
On October 10, 2019, Jen received her second kidney transplant – this time from an unknown deceased donor. This time was different, and she woke from surgery feeling great. She immediately knew that this transplant was going to be a success. She has had some complications, mostly related to her immune suppression, but she won’t give up. She says, “There’s always hope!”
Jen’s purpose in life has always been to help others, and transplant has made that possible once again. She has energy and mental clarity that she didn’t have while she was so sick. Jen says, “I believe g-d has kept me alive for a reason and it is my job to figure out why and do something about it.”
Jen has been through so much and is now able to help others. And help others, she does. In addition to being involved in Erase the Wait as a mentor with Donate Life Northwest, she has also supported several members of her congregation as they have navigated the challenges of kidney disease. She explains, “I listen to their concerns, suggest questions they might want to ask and give them hope that treating kidney disease and undergoing a transplant are not anything to be feared.”
Jen says of her experience, “While this may not be the train I wanted to ride, I’m glad I’m on it.” To people who are waiting for their gift of life, she encourages, “There’s hope, and you’re not the only one. And there’s a whole community there to hold you up.”