Most people who make the life-saving decision to donate one of their body’s organs to a stranger usually don’t meet the recipient—and may not learn the recipient’s identity—for more than a year. It’s a strong tradition, sometimes a regulation of the medical organizations that arrange the transplant, designed to lessen the emotional impact of the eventual meeting, and to make sure that the transplant is successful.
Gitti Allman is not most people.
An administrative liaison at a girl’s yeshivah in New York City and cake-baker/decorator who lives in Cedarhurst, Long Island, Gitti learned four years ago that Anthony “Sonny” Silver, a police officer who worked in Jersey City, was undergoing grueling dialysis treatments three times a week and required a kidney donation from a compatible man or woman to improve the quality of his life, and to prolong it.
She decided to become a donor.
Allman describes what followed as a series of coincidences—she had first participated in what she thought was simply a test for a blood donation; then she tested positive; then she learned that the intended recipient actually needed a kidney, not blood; then the intended recipient developed a medical complication that ruled out the donation; then Allman found out about Silver, who also needed a kidney.
Allman was touched by Silver’s story (he had been a first responder at the fatal antisemitic shooting in December 2019 at a kosher deli in Jersey City, likely saving the lives of young Jewish students at a next-door day school). She learned that Silver, a religious, church-going Catholic (his father was Jewish), was a benevolent veteran police officer who went beyond the call of duty to help people.
She saw her offer of a kidney to a man who had risked his life to save Jewish ones as “a kiddush Hashem,” a public recognition of thanks by an Orthodox Jew to a worthy recipient. “His story spoke to me—he put his life on the line.”
Allman didn’t wait to contact Silver about donating a kidney (most people have two, and can spare one) by going through the usual, anonymous medical channels.
She called Silver.
Tracking down his phone number at his precinct, she explained her interest in (as an Orthodox Jew, she wanted to thank him for his heroism), convinced him of the sincerity of her offer (Silver first suspected that his fellow officers were pulling a prank on him), and described her ability (they share the rare B+ blood type) to give him one of her kidneys.
Allman arranged the donation through Renewal (renewal.org), a seventeen-year-old, Brooklyn-based organization that encourages kidney donations in the Orthodox community.
First, more testing—doctors told Allman that she and Silver “could pass for siblings,” and gave the transplant at Montefiore Hospital in the Bronx their go-ahead. There are “few long-term risks for generally healthy people” to donate a kidney, according to the Mayo Clinic.
On March 3, 2020—the day before the Covid-19 pandemic shut down the hospital’s transplant program for six months—Allman joined the thousands of living people (in addition to the organs donated from people who had died) in the United States who donate a kidney each year.
She spent three days in the hospital, before recuperating at home. In the hospital, she again bucked tradition. Walking the corridor, attached to an IV, with Eliezer, her husband, she came past Silver’s room. She knocked on the door and walked in.
Kidney donors usually don’t introduce themselves to the recipients a few days after the surgery.
Allman is not a usual person.
Silver, lying in bed, speaking with a friend on the telephone, immediately guessed who his visitor was; he hung up on his phone call— “My guardian angel is here,” he told his friend.
Donor and recipient, and their families, became friends, keeping regularly in touch.
Silver eventually returned to the police force; Allman went back to work.
“It has given me the energy,” Silver said afterwards. “I’m working the radio car in the streets, out there doing what I wanted to do and Gitti helped me to do.”
“I gave him three extra years,” Allman says; Silver retired as one of Jersey City’s longest-serving police officers in 2021; his donated kidney kept him in good health; sadly, he died in December 2022 of an unrelated infection.
Allman’s health now?
“I’m great,” she says. She has returned to her biking hobby, to making a full Pesach for her family, to fasting on Judaism’s fast days, “even the ‘minor’” fasts.
With her doctors’ permission, she can donate blood again, Allman says. She can do anything. With one exception. “I can no longer donate a kidney.”
Steve Lipman is a frequent contributor to Jewish Action.
“Everyday Kindness” is a column where we highlight small and not-so-small acts of kindness that happen each and every single day. Small acts with a big impact. Do you have such a story to share? Send it to email@example.com under the subject line “Everyday Kindness” and it might appear in our next newsletter! (Reprints are acceptable.)