As the Jewish High Holy Days conclude Wednesday with Yom Kippur, Elliott Kominsky of Warren knows exactly how he will express his gratitude to others. He will say a special prayer to the person whose heart now beats in his chest and their family. And he will give back in multiples of 18, representing “Chai,” which translates to “Life,” to the organizations that saved his life: NJ Sharing Network and Newark Beth Israel Medical Center in Newark.
“I owe my life to NJ Sharing Network and to Newark Beth Israel and the way I can give back is donate money and to write checks and, more important, to give my time and to tell my story,” the 62-year-old married father of two said.
Kominsky's story includes years of debilitating illness, followed by overwhelming disappointment and, ultimately, a second chance at life.
Just over 15 years ago years ago, Kominsky was an active father of young children who ran 35 miles each week. He also ran his own accounting business and “had the world on a string,” he recalled.
He finished running a 10K in Red Bank in the summer of 1995 when some loose plaque dislodged in his heart and blocked a crucial artery. The heart attack eventually set off a series of heart-related illness, including cardiomyopathy and coronary artery disease. Through the years, surgeries and pacemakers kept him alive, though he had limitations and could not work.
His heart disease progressed until Spring of 2010, when doctors told him bluntly that he needed a new heart. He went on the waiting list and, on December 25, 2010, the call came. He rushed to the hospital, went under anesthesia, and woke up the next day with a nurse at his side.
“I lifted the sheet and saw my chest. No scar,” he recalled. Mechanical troubles on the plane kept the out-of-state heart from getting to New Jersey. So he went home and wondered if another phone call from his transplant surgery team would ever come.
The call came at 2 am on January 8, 2011. He woke up the next day with a new heart, this one from New Jersey. Kominsky not only received a second chance a life, he has a life that is infinitely better. His children, now 19 and 22, grew up with a father who was disabled, he said, and now they have a father who “can do anything.”
Kominsky spoke recently after an hour on the elliptical machine, sounding only slightly winded. He recalled how after his transplant he wrote to his donor family.
“I wrote saying that I will never forget them and I promised to keep this heart working, to listen to the doctors and to take all my medicine,” he said. “I get up every day and I think about this family and the generosity of their donation.”
Kominsky said he believes he knows the story of the donor but declines, out of respect for the family's privacy, to divulge any details unless the family chooses to contact him. These days he focuses much of his time volunteering to spread the word about organ and tissue donation in the community.
He will make a Kol Nidre contribution, an offering connected to the evening preceding Yom Kippur, in honor of those who have given him so much. These gifts help support the congregation and Kominsky said he will set up a table to educate congregants about organ and tissue donation.
Kominsky has support from his rabbi, Rabbi John S. Schechter of Congregation B'nai Israel in Basking Ridge. Rabbi Schechter agreed that these High Holy Days are times for congregants, such as Kominsky, to reflect on their lives and those who have helped them along the way.
“Each year at the High Holy Days Jews around the world recite Unetanah Tokef, a prayer which tells of how our own repentance, prayers and acts of human caring can mitigate the harshness of existence,” said Rabbi Schechter. “When we act towards others with kindness, thoughtfulness and a measure of planning for the future, we can elevate survival, and enable others to be most fully human despite whatever medical needs they have.”
To learn more about organ and tissue donation contact NJ Sharing Network at 1-800-742-7365 or visit www.NJSharingNetwork.org to register as an organ and tissue donor.