A Conversation With Samantha Cohen

Phyllis Katz and Samantha Cohen.

The daughter of Phyllis Katz, a longtime Sag Harbor resident in need of a kidney donation, talks about her mother’s struggle with kidney disease, and why she is hopeful during April, National Donate a Life month, a donor will come forward for her mother.

Phyllis is a longtime Sag Harbor resident who now resides in Southampton, and is facing stage five kidney failure. What caused this, and can you explain what it means for someone living with this condition?

My mother grew up in Sag Harbor, as did her mother, Gertrude Katz. Phyllis’ mother’s mother (my great grandmother), Nettie Rosenstein, had a clothing shop, the Fil-Net Shop right next to the movie theater and my grandfather Donald B. Katz had an accounting practice located next to the Ideal. My mother also had a boutique in Sag Harbor, for many years named Phyllis & Samantha that sold cosmetics, clothing and other items.

My mother’s kidney issues have been slowly declining for about 20 years, due to other medical issues. She has also endured numerous operations, including, spinal surgery and hip replacement. After a lengthy stay in Southampton Hospital for an unrelated surgery in October 2016, her kidney functioning dropped below 15 percent and never recovered. She began dialysis in July 2017 and currently goes three-times a week, four-hours each time. Living with kidney failure is extremely difficult, tiresome and without a doubt, life changing. A person with this condition can have symptoms that include being consistently tired, headaches, open skin lesions and an overall general feeling of being ill. Patients with kidney failure also need to alter their diet as anything put into the body could have potentially severe consequences. Dialysis removes waste, salt and extra water from the body. It also keeps a safe level of certain chemicals in your body. However, the side effects of dialysis include low blood pressure, nausea, itchy skin, muscle cramping and sometimes bleed outs during the actual dialysis session. Dialysis is also difficult because the patient is relying on a machine to sustain their life. There is definitely a sense of the patients life “before dialysis began” and then there is life “on dialysis.”

As a result of this, you have begun a public outreach campaign to secure a kidney donation for your mother? Can you tell me a little about the process for finding out if you are a viable candidate?

I decided to champion a public outreach campaign because although Phyllis is on the list for a deceased donor, that wait can often average 3 to 7 years.  By the time a deceased donor becomes available, the chances that Phyllis would still be eligible is not guaranteed due to a variety of factors, but can include the debilitating side effects of dialysis and the harsh toll it can take on the body. The doctors have said that the optimal type of kidney transplant is a transplant from a living donor. A transplant from a living donor also has the best chance of working for many years. Unfortunately, even though I would want to, I cannot donate one of my own kidneys to my mom as my husband, Jordan, and I are expecting a child this summer. In the United States alone, there are over 100,000 people on the waiting list for a kidney. Each year, only about 11,000 of those patients are fortunate enough to get a kidney transplant form someone who has died and donated their organs. I am hoping that Phyllis will be able to find a living donor so she can come off of dialysis and play an active role in her grandchild’s life. If anyone would like to find out more about living donation, the staff at Stony Brook Kidney Transplant Center are available to talk confidentially at (631) 444-6944. We are currently looking for an A or O blood type as that match Phyllis’ blood type and be the first step in screening potential donors. Time is critical as we search for matching donor, and any support is truly appreciated.

What is the procedure like for a successful candidate?

At Stony Brook Transplant Center, more than a third of the transplanted kidneys come from living donors; 99-percent of whom have had their surgery performed laparoscopically, resulting in a shorter hospital stay and quicker recovery. Kidney transplant surgery lasts about three to four hours. During surgery, the transplanted kidney is placed in the pelvis near one o the patients hip bones. The surgeon connects the blood vessels from the transplanted kidney to the blood vessels in the pelvis. Transplantation has many advantages. It eliminates the need for dialysis and helps patients enjoy a life filled with more freedom, energy and productivity. Successful kidney transplantation would give my mom back her health. It also provides a better quality of life and is therefore a preferable treatment for many patients. Many patients also return to work and lead a full life after transplant.

It seems she has a real verve for life. What would a successful donation mean for Phyllis?

A successful donation would mean everything to Phyllis. She has faced every health challenge with courage, strength and a sense of humor. Although this one has been her most challenging yet, she does not let it her get down. Phyllis, is not only my mom, she is my hero. I, along with my family wish nothing more for her than to be able to a active grandmother and enjoy all the things she loves. Giving an organ is truly giving the gift of life.

To reach out to the Katz or Cohen families, please email scohen11963@gmail.com.