Leslie Kaufman, the Jewish Federation of Ottawa’s vice-president of corporate services, has returned to work following recovery from lifesaving liver transplant surgery last November at Toronto General Hospital.
“It’s different in a number of ways going into work now,” Kaufman said after her first morning back, September 6. “I think about how my work colleagues and the community rallied around me, and it overwhelms me how wonderful and generous this community is. We need to make the most of every day, and focus on self-improvement. I’m hoping it will continue to make me a better person.”
After spending six months in hospital, Kaufman has been working out at the Soloway Jewish Community Centre gym for several months as part of her recovery process.
“I’m feeling good,” she said, “leaps and bounds better than I was a year ago, or even two years ago. When a part of you is failing, it really affects every part of you. I knew something wasn’t right, but it took a while for the doctors to figure it out. My disease is very rare; only 8,000 people in Canada suffer from this illness.”
Kaufman’s autoimmune disease is PBC – primary biliary cirrhosis or primary biliary cholangitis – which is marked by slow progressive destruction of the small bile ducts of the liver.
She was in bad shape, with a persistent cough, compression fractures in her spine, caused by osteoporosis from her illness, and hepatic encephalopathy, one of the conditions of end stage liver disease.
“When you’re in that state, it’s because your liver has almost shut down … Toxins back up in the system and it builds up a level of ammonia in the brain. It can cause confusion and hallucinations … Thanks to my angel donor for the full liver transplant, the system is whole and functioning again. It’s bigger than I realized at the time.”
Kaufman is currently working part-time, transitioning toward a full-time schedule over a two-month period, and taking on responsibilities slowly. The first portfolios she’s working on are oversight of the Ottawa Vaad HaKashrut and some governance responsibilities for the Ottawa Jewish Community Foundation.
“As the weeks progress, I’ll slowly take on oversight of other services, until I’m back full time,” she said.
Back home over the summer, Kaufman enjoyed spending “quality time” with
her family “that didn’t involve hospital food.”
Her husband, Sam Greenspon, “was such a staunch advocate for me,” she said. “He’s the reason I’m alive. To spend some nice time with him has been wonderful, and a time to reflect on my experience of the past year.”
Kaufman said there is commonly “survivor’s guilt” when you have a transplant.
“I don’t know who my donor was, but I was permitted to send an anonymous note to the family to thank them for gifting me with life.”
Kaufman has spent a lot of the summer rehabilitating her body after six months in the hospital and not walking “so that, when I came back to work, I could have a healthy mind and body.”
Kaufman has also done fundraising for the Canadian Liver Foundation and has been involved with the Canadian PBC Society, the support organization for her disease.
She received her liver from a deceased donor after an urgent search for a living donor received widespread support from the Jewish community. Although a number of potential donors came forward, a liver from a deceased donor became available before all of the extensive testing necessary for a suitable match for a living donor was fully completed.
Kaufman has a message she hopes everyone will hear: “Organ donations save lives. Eight individuals can be saved form one donor. Please consider opting in at www.beadonor.ca.”