Friday, March 25, 2011

Drummer Keeps Up Beat While Waiting for a Kidney

By Jesse Poole
Gordon College News Service

(This story appeared March 28 in The Boston Globe, Malden.)

Arthur Litvak, 61, of Malden, MA, sleeps with his phone. As one of 82 people waiting for a call from Massachusetts General Hospital, Litvak knows news of an available kidney for a transplant could come at any minute. “It’s a mystery as to when that call might come,” said Litvak.

Litvak, who is a graduate of Berklee School of Music,’73, and a jazz drummer, lost his left leg six years ago due to diabetic complications. “After that, I stopped everything, stopped teaching, stopped drumming,” said Litvak. “And it took me three years to start drumming again.”

Litvak had also taught English as a Second Language for Boston Public Schools, Madison Park High School, and La Alianza Hispana, but retired after losing his leg and begining treatment on dialysis.

“Dialysis itself is a complete fulltime job,” said Vickie Dovner, 58, of Sharon, MA, who’s been Litvak’s friend for the past two years. “It’s been an unbelievable struggle (for him).”

But Litvak doesn’t necessarily see it that way. Instead, he says he counts his blessings. “Every morning I wake up and say ‘Wow, man, I’m still here,’” he said. “I didn’t have a 30 foot wave crash through my home like thousands of people just did in Japan.”

Now Litvak plays the drums about once a month or whenever he finds time to. His life as a drummer started when he was a child. At age 11 he took drum lessons where he grew up in Everett, MA, for 25 cents per half hour, and now hopes to keep drumming no matter what jobs or treatment he has to endure.

“The real difference between dialysis and a fulltime job is that it doesn’t matter what kind of day I’m having, if I don’t go, I don’t risk my job. I risk my life,” said Litvak.

Dovner has stuck by Litvak’s side through his treatment. “It’s no picnic waiting for results test after test,” she said. “It puts body and mind through a lot of stress.”

Litvak rarely drinks any fluids and cannot urinate. He has a fistula in his arm. And this past winter he had a hematoma on his neck and shoulder. Every dialysis treatment takes protein out of him and because of his treatment, he’s had to give up many types of foods.
“But tomatoes and other foods are the least significant,” said Litvak. “I’ve had to give up my freedom.”

Fortunately, Litvak has many friends who have come and given him emotional support.

“It keeps me chipper,” said Litvak. “People tell me I have a positive attitude and I believe I do. But I also have a realistic attitude and I know this train ride could end any minute.”

Litvak hasn’t allowed himself to look too far in advance, but if he gets a transplant he thinks he’d like to pick up the drumsticks and also travel more. “I would be more active and visit friends, go places on the weekends and substitute teach,” said Litvak. “I wouldn’t be tied down to a clinic.”

According to the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network, there are 1,877 people like Litvak on the waiting list for a kidney transplant in Massachusetts alone. More than 87,000 people are waiting throughout the United States. Yet in the anxious struggle of waiting for a kidney, Litvak has hope.

“This is a race that many don’t win,” said Litvak. “But I intend to win this race.”


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