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What is a kidney worth?

(Page 10 of 11)

But this time he's full of dread.

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"Man, you've got to get out of here," his friend warns.

One word that keeps coming into his head: "Why?" I have done nothing wrong, harmed no one. I crossed the world to give life to a dying man. I sold only what was mine. Why are they doing this? Why me? I am going to jail, Hernani thinks to himself. Within minutes, he has changed his clothes and slips out into the night. Soon he's banging on the metal door of a local hot-sheet hotel, where rooms are rented by the hour. The receptionist is surprised to see a single man looking for a room, but he accepts Hernani's credit card and hands him a key.

Afraid and agitated, Hernani lies on the grotty hotel bed staring at himself in the mirror overhead. He's not reviewing his decision to sell his kidney. He's not worrying about the police finding him. He's worrying about whether he has enough money in the bank to pay the hotel bill - about $7 per night.

* * *

As the investigation continues into 2004, Johan is still unsettled about his religious perspective on organ sales. As he drives home one night, he realizes he's had a change of heart from his first inclination to "do anything" to save himself or one of his family members, including buying a kidney. Knowing what he knows now, he'd try to figure out something legal. For instance, he, his brother, and his best friend all have O-negative blood. And they've got an understanding: If one of them ever needs blood - or maybe an organ - the others would step up. He knows people who have done so. A couple of years ago, a woman at his church donated her kidney to a fellow church member. "It was such a huge sacrifice," he thinks.

He realizes he's become pretty passionate about this stuff. But he still hasn't found biblical guidance.

That night at home he goes to his bedroom and picks up his Bible. He sits down on the bed and speaks into the silence. "Lord, there has to be something in this book of yours about this," he says.

He opens to a verse he hadn't considered before. Romans 12:1. He reads these words from Paul's letter: "Give your bodies a living sacrifice."

Paul may have meant something else when he wrote it, but to Johan it now feels important to donate his organs after death. "Jesus sacrificed himself for everyone - gave his whole body for all mankind." The least we can do, he thinks, is give part of our body to someone else in need. Finally he has what he's been looking for.

* * *

Today, 14 months after his surgery, Arie Pach, now 57 years old, is living a new life of freedom - sort of. His youngest son is getting married this summer, and Arie will be there under the wedding canopy.

But he's told he'll have to take immunosuppressant drugs for the rest of his life. And he's photosensitive; he can't go out in the midday sun much and finds himself missing a day at the beach. He used to like to swim, but now, on doctors' orders, he has to beware of contracting an illness by going to public pools.

"I'm more philosophical and more resigned about my own fate," he says on a cool afternoon at home, where pastel flowers are in bloom in the tiny backyard garden. "There are so many things in life that could have been worse, but thank God I'm fine now," he says. And even though he has a new kidney from across the world, he's still searching for a better solution. "I haven't become religious," he says, "but I guess you could say I pray more, to ask for a refuah shlema - a full healing."


As far as investigators know, the syndicate that orchestrated kidney swaps for at least two yearsin Durban between Brazilians and Israelis is dismantled. But the global trade - and the debate about it - rolls on.