By Ellen Braunstein, Special to Chicago Jewish News

A conversation can save a life. Eleven years ago, Rabbi Andy Bossov, then 48, was in need of a kidney donor. The Mt. Laurel, NJ rabbi had slow renal failure stemming from an adverse reaction to medication he had taken for years for another problem.

His family members were ruled out. But a casual mention about his medical situation to a fellow pastor at an interfaith ministers’ meeting changed everything. Methodist pastor the Rev. Karen Onesti, then 50, immediately offered her own left kidney and would prove to be a suitable candidate.

“Thank you, but you don’t realize what you are saying,” said Bossov, who now lives in Wilmette and serves as a rabbi and piano performer for senior communities.

Onesti remembers saying that her family had good kidneys and longevity and it’s what G-d wanted her to do. “It was a divine setup. I was there at the right time when the need was presented. I said, ‘What do I have to do? Tell me where to start.’”

It took a year for both to get cleared for the transplant. “I have no regrets. It’s all a blessing.”

Their relationship has deepened and they have appeared together on behalf of live organ donation on ‘Good Morning America.’ Both lead happy, healthy lives, him in Illinois, she in New Jersey.  They see each other three or four times a year. “That’s how close we are,” said Bossov, who named his kidney ‘lefty’ after Onesti’s donated left kidney.

In March – National Kidney Month—Bossov participated in a Capitol Hill fly-in for 30 advocates of kidney-related causes sponsored by the American Kidney Fund. “I want to encourage people to become live donors and buck the trend of the opposition to that,” said Bossov, who spoke to his legislative representatives. “It makes economic sense to get people off of dialysis as much as possible.”

Bossov also does live PSAs for organizational meetings to spread the word about getting screened for kidney disease and other conditions that would have spared him from life-threatening illness.

In Illinois, 31,186 residents are living with end-stage renal disease and 21,226 depend on dialysis to stay alive, according to the American Kidney Fund. Dialysis takes over part of the kidney function when the kidneys no longer work properly.  Statewide, 3,647 people are on the waiting list for kidney transplants and 756 transplants were performed in 2017.

The leading causes of kidney failure are diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity.

Simple blood and urine tests can tell how well the kidneys are working. The screening is vital because those with early kidney disease don’t know they have it. Symptoms appear in the late stages.

Bossov and others lobbied legislators on two bills making their way through the House of Representatives. HR 3976 would amend the Affordable Care Act to allow third-party payments and charitable assistance. The bill specifically allows non-profits, like the American Kidney Fund, civic groups and churches to help pay cost sharing and health insurance premiums for individuals and families. Many health insurers have been refusing payments from third parties including the American Kidney Fund to avoid having to cover patients with end stage renal disease. The AKF pays the insurance premiums of 74,000 people.

The other bill, HR 1270, would make it easier for people to donate organs, giving them job protection and required time off as part of the Family and Medical Leave Act.

Holly Bode, vice President of Government Affairs for the American Kidney fund, says that Bossov well represents the organization. “He’s very passionate and articulate on the issues,” “He’s dedicated to getting the word out.”

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