At the age of 19, Chavie* was in her second year of college, working hard at school, happily spending her free time with friends and family, and generally living a life typical of girls her age. A little over nine years ago, during the period of the Yamim Nora’im, Chavie’s life took an unexpected sharp turn.
Around Rosh HaShanah time, Chavie started not feeling well. Nobody was overly concerned, and her doctor treated her for an infection. Chavie continued to feel unwell, and blood work showed that her liver enzymes were up. The doctor assumed she was suffering from hepatitis. Chavie managed to fast on Yom Kippur but she felt worse as the day progressed and was unable to remain standing during Neilah. By Sukkos, she was feeling really sick, and her doctor told her that if she felt any worse, she should go to the emergency room.
When Chavie began vomiting on Simchas Torah, her family called Hatzolah. Her vitals indicated that she needed to be rushed to the hospital immediately! They quickly loaded her into the ambulance and raced to NYU, which was known to be the best hospital for liver-related issues. But while on the way, they were told that there were no beds available at NYU, so they rerouted to Columbia. The family was disappointed that Chavie wouldn’t be taken to the top hospital for her condition, but there was nothing they could do about it. They also couldn’t dwell on it. Chavie’s condition was deteriorating right before their eyes. As a result of her climbing liver levels, her brain began to swell.
The medical staff at Columbia realized that Chavie needed an immediate liver transplant. Since she was young and generally healthy, she was placed at the top of the waiting list of people in need of a donor. The decision was made that her father would donate part of his liver to Chavie. Meanwhile, Chavie was placed in a cooling environment to prevent further swelling of her brain while she waited for surgery. As it turned out, NYU would not have been able to provide Chavie with this critical treatment. It suddenly became obvious that it had actually been a blessing that there had been no bed available for Chavie at NYU. Hashem made sure that Chavie would be admitted to the hospital that could give her what she needed.
In another unmistakable expression of hashgachah pratis, as Chavie’s father was being prepped for surgery, a patient hospitalized on the floor above Chavie passed away. Chavie ended up receiving her transplant from that patient, making it unnecessary for her father to donate part of his liver to her. That stroke of hashgachah became even more evident several years later when Chavie’s father had to deal with his own medical condition, which could have been further compromised had he donated his liver to her. Throughout Chavie’s traumatic ordeal, she and her family felt the gifts of such positive developments as hugs from Hashem.
The recovery from surgery was long and difficult. Chavie experienced much physical and emotional pain. But Chavie’s situation stabilized, and exactly one year after her transplant, she was introduced to her husband. As far as Chavie was concerned, this was a miracle in and of itself, as she had expected to encounter difficulty in finding a shidduch given her medical history.
Chavie and her husband were blessed with two beautiful and healthy children. But it didn’t all go so smoothly. She had several bouts of organ rejection during those years and consequently needed a second liver transplant. After her second son was born, Chavie experienced further complications and, at that point, her doctor informed her that pregnancy was no longer an option for her. It was much too risky. This was very difficult information for Chavie and her husband to hear. But, as Chavie has done throughout her ordeal, she perseveres and makes the best of her circumstances. She and her husband are exploring other ways to grow their family.
Chavie still struggles with her situation at times, but her faith pulls her through her difficult moments. She strongly believes that Hashem gives people what they can handle. Everyone struggles with something and Hashem gave her particular struggle to her specifically because He believes she can handle it. Chavie is able to take note of the good and considers herself lucky to have so much brachah in her life. She clearly sees how Hashem orchestrates things to work out the way they are meant to be. Hashem is with us even when He seems hidden.
Chavie has grown through her challenge, and her experience shapes her way of thinking on a constant basis. Having been so vulnerable, she understands how compassion can literally be a lifeline for someone in crisis. She herself tries as much as possible to provide love and compassion to those she knows who are suffering.
As Chavie shares the ways her difficult journey impacts how she acts today, I find myself inspired to act as she does. But since much suffering takes place beneath the surface and is not necessarily obvious to outsiders, it is fitting to show compassion to everyone we meet.