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Cut ’n Paste: Right Place, Right Time

Rabbi Yosef Chaim Golding

Dr. Thomas. E. Starzl paused to consider the scans. After a minute, he said, “Are the doctors in New York crazy? Your mother is a prime candidate for surgery.”

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

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FROM THE HEART I asked if Dr. Starzl would do the surgery, and when. His response: “Can you have her here tomorrow?” He never mentioned money; he simply wanted to help my mother

R arely do you hear the expression “Baruch Dayan HaEmes” or “ztz”l” outside of our community. But the passing last month of liver transplant pioneer Dr. Thomas E. Starzl left me with those exact thoughts.

Thirty-some years ago, my mother, Chava Golding a"h, was very ill. The liver specialists in Mount Sinai Hospital had given up hope for her. It seemed a bit incongruous, as our mother had spent most of her waking days accompanying Mrs. Kahn, the malach of Mount Sinai, in her acts of bikur cholim throughout those very halls.

Nevertheless, Dr. Barry Salky, who eventually became a chief surgeon at Mount Sinai, pulled me aside and said the following words: “There is nothing more we can do for your mother here. But there’s a doctor in Pittsburgh by the name of Starzl who might be able to help. Try to get an appointment with him at Presbyterian University Hospital [now UPMC Presbyterian], and bring your mother’s scans with you.”

I was a bit dizzy that morning when I reached my office at Agudath Israel of America, wondering how I would or could procure an appointment with the renowned Dr. Thomas Starzl, who had performed the world’s first successful liver transplant on a human patient in 1967, and was known as “the father of modern transplantation.”

So I wandered into Rabbi Moshe Sherer’s office and asked him if he had any ideas for me. He leaned over his intercom and buzzed his dedicated secretary. “Debby… get me Rabbi Abraham Twerski on the phone.” Less than a minute later, Rabbi Dr. Twerski was on the phone. Rabbi Sherer asked him if he knew this Dr. Starzl. He answered in the affirmative, saying they were co-heads of departments — psychiatry and hepatology — in the same hospital.

Half an hour later, Dr. Starzl’s private secretary, Nancy, called me and asked if I could come in the next day! As Dr. Starzl was in Denver, and I would be coming from New York, she suggested that we perhaps could meet in the airport and take a taxi together, giving him time to spend with me. Flabbergasted, I agreed and hustled to get a flight to Pittsburgh (for those of you who remember People Express, that was easy). In the end, we missed each other at the airport, and I got to his office a few minutes before him. When I opened the door, I saw about 40 people in the waiting room. As my heart began to sink, Nancy looked up and said, “Rabbi Golding? Go right into his office, you’ll be the first one he sees.”

A few minutes later, this modest, unassuming giant of medicine walked into his office. “You have the scans?” I nodded and handed him the folder. He motioned for me to join him in the back stairwell as he viewed the scans using the sunlight coming through the window. After a minute, he said, “Are the doctors in New York crazy? She’s a prime candidate for surgery.”

I asked if he would do the surgery, and when.

His response: “Can you have her here tomorrow?”

He never mentioned money; he simply wanted to help my mother.

Excerpted from Mishpacha, Issue 657. A longtime Agudath Israel executive, Rabbi Yosef Chaim Golding is currently CEO of Misaskim.

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