In 1995, at the age of 49, Jeffrey Akrish was forced to retire from his family business, Market House Corned Beef, because he was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy, heart failure from an unexplained cause, and given six months to live unless he received a heart transplant. Six years later, through a combination of successful medication and a life-saving machine called a HeartMate, Akrish is still waiting for that transplant.
The native Seattleite, who waits at home in Redmond, is one of 1,200 people in the Pacific Northwest waiting for donated organs to give them a chance at a normal life. On Saturday, June 9, Lifecenter Northwest Donor Network is sponsoring its second annual “Let’s Walk and Talk,” to rally support for public education about the critical need for organ and tissue donation. The 5K event will take place at Redmond’s Marymoor Park.
“I’ve got a basic attitude that I try to take every day as it comes,” says Jeff in a strong voice. He’s on the cell phone, out shopping with his wife, Carol, who has recently retired from the Temple B’nai Torah office staff to care for her husband. They are out during the four-hour window in which the HeartMate’s battery, which boosts every heart beat, allows him to be unplugged. “The battery weighs three and a half pounds, and the machine’s another three, and sometimes it feels like sixty,” he says, but it’s not a complaint, “considering the alternative.” As they go about their daily lives, the Akrishes always carry a beeper, so they can be reached in case a heart becomes available for Jeff.
“I’m just grateful that I live in the area where the UW transplant center is,” Jeff adds. “They’ve done an excellent job of keeping me alive.”
“Long-term, the complications are severe,” says Akrish’s cardiologist, Dr. Neal Perlmutter, also a member of Temple B’nai Torah. “I’ll be walking,” on June 9, he adds. “The advantage of this Walk and Talk event is that it can make people aware of organ donation, aware that other people’s lives can be saved, so that it’s something people are willing to think about in times of tragedy.”
Perlmutter’s son, David, chose to volunteer for Lifecenter Northwest as his tzedakah project in preparation for his upcoming Bar Mitzvah.
“I think,” Dr. Perlmutter says, “that many people who are very observant Jews haven’t thought, or may have some objections, about organ donation.”
Richard Berger of the Seattle Jewish Chapel, whose job it is to coordinate preparation of Jews for burial according to Jewish law, says that in his experience, local Orthodox rabbis approach donation on a case-by-case basis. “A lot of Conservative and Reform Jews donate eyes to an eye bank,” he adds. According to Berger, even the strictest local authorities have been known to approve organ donations from a specific person to a specific person.
“Our hope is that by raising awareness, more people will consider it,” says Dr. Perlmutter. Nationwide, 16 people die each day waiting for a donated organ.
Seattle Mariners pitcher Jamie Moyer will be on hand for the “Walk and Talk” event, which will be hosted by John Curley of TV’s “Evening Magazine.” Moyer has donated the use of his personal suite at Safeco Field as the grand prize to the team of walkers who raise the most pledge dollars to support future donation-awareness activities in local communities. Prizes will go to the top fund-raising teams, individuals, and the team with the most participants. Registration begins at 9 a.m. The walk starts at 10 a.m. at Marymoor Park, and follows the scenic Sammamish River Trail, which is stroller and wheelchair accessible.
A registration fee of $15 covers participation and an event T-shirt. [Participating pups will receive an event bandana.] For more information about “Let’s Walk & Talk,” go to Life-center Northwest’s Web site, www.lcnw.org or call toll-free 1-877-275-5269.