Rabbi Aizik Baumgarten typically tends to the spiritual needs of his flock on the East End. But now he has gone a step beyond: He donated one of his kidneys to a member of his congregation.
The recipient, Terri Davgin of East Hampton, is a 73-year-old retiree who spent decades teaching in New York City public schools.
The patient and rabbi are both doing well a week after the transplant surgery at New York-Presbyterian Hospital in Manhattan.
Davgin, whose surgery took place not far from the Harlem and South Bronx neighborhoods where she worked for 33 years, said Tuesday she was overwhelmed with gratitude for her rabbi’s gift of life.
“I’m amazed. I’m flabbergasted,” she said by telephone Tuesday while resting at home after being discharged from the hospital Saturday.
“I waited a long time for this and then when it finally happened, " Davgin said, adding, "I’m beyond words.”
For Baumgarten, 34, donating one of his kidneys was a simple decision. “I said absolutely.”
“What kind of a question is that — when someone calls you and says you have an opportunity to save someone’s life?”
Baumgarten said he is “used to helping out with spiritual stuff, services and Jewish life. And here I can actually physically help. Just that alone was amazing.”
The two, along with their spouses, had been friends for about a decade after Davgin and her husband, Richard, retired to East Hampton. Baumgarten serves at the Chabad of the Hamptons and, during the summer, at another Chabad center in Montauk.
Davgin needed her first kidney transplant in 2016. About a year ago doctors told her she needed another one.
A Brooklyn-based Jewish group named Renewal, which helps match organ donors and recipients, was in touch with some of the people at the Chabad of the Hamptons last summer. Among those who did a swab test to see if they could be a donor for Davgin was the rabbi.
“That part was easy,” Baumgarten said. “This doesn’t mean anything yet.”
Months passed with no word, but then in March, workers from Renewal contacted him to say he was a match for Davgin and asked if he still had an interest in donating a kidney.
The rabbi responded immediately, and considered himself lucky.
“It’s a great opportunity that God has bestowed upon me, to be able to save someone’s life,” Baumgarten said. “That’s how I look at, it 100 percent.”
He told doctors, though, that he hoped to do the transplant as soon as possible, since he would be heading to the Montauk Chabad to handle the summer crowds.
The hospital moved the surgery date up to May 23, and it was just in time, according to Davgin. She was deteriorating, and had been scheduled to start dialysis the next day.
She did not find out who the donor was until a few weeks before the transplant.
“It really blew me away,” Davgin said. “The idea that somebody who knows me and who I know and our involvement with the Chabad and it being the rabbi, it’s just the most special thing I could ever imagine.”
The day after the surgery last week, nurses took Baumgarten to see Davgin in the hospital.
“She looked better than I did,” the rabbi said. “It seems like she has taken well to my kidney.”