Organ donation saves childhood friend

| November 17, 2011
Claire Geer Felsen and Howie Evans held a photo of Steve Geer in the garden at Adath Jeshurun.

Chris Humphreys | Voice-Tribune
Claire Geer Felsen and Howie Evans held a photo of Steve Geer in the garden at Adath Jeshurun.

Since they were children, Howie and Steve Geer shared several similarities – they were neighbors, both alumni of Atherton High School and attended the same synagogue, Adath Jeshurun.

However, it was later in adulthood that a connection would occur between the two that no one ever saw coming – a connection that cost one his life and consequently saved the other’s.

Steve Geer.

Steve Geer.

In late October of 2006, Geer – a healthy, active triathlete and Ironman competitor – had surgery on his spine after doctors found a benign tumor.

“He had a chronically bad back for years,” said Steve’s brother, Jonathon Geer. “Post-surgery, a few days after, he had a stroke. The doctors operated a couple times and it wasn’t reversible. He was on life support for three or four days.”

During that time, Howie was battling kidney disease and had to endure six months on dialysis. His father had donated a kidney to him in 1990, but around the Spring of 2006, the kidney had begun to fail and Howie had to go back on the organ donor list to await a life-saving kidney.

“I had been called down four previous times (for a possible organ donation),” Howie said. “Each time they had sent me home.”

As both Steve and Howie were fighting for their lives, Rabbi Robert B. Slosberg at Adath Jeshurun had been working behind-the-scenes and would eventually help save one of their lives.

“Howie’s father told me about his son’s health deteriorating,” said Rabbi Slosberg of Adath Jeshurun. “Had he kept it a secret, I’m not sure I could have intervened.”

Claire and Steve with their three children.

Claire and Steve with their three children.

Rabbi Slosberg asked the congregation at Adath Jeshurun if anyone would be interested in donating a kidney. On October 28, 2006, the opportunity arose for one of his congregates to do so.

At the hospital, Steve’s wife Claire knew the chance of Steve surviving his surgery didn’t look good. That’s when she decided on October 28, if Steve’s life couldn’t be saved, then someone else’s should be.

“I asked (Steve’s) parents if it would be okay with them if we donated (his organs),” said Claire Geer Felsen (who has since remarried). “It was something I thought should be done to make something better come of the situation.”

Without a doubt, it was a difficult situation to face, but for Claire, the decision to donate Steve’s organs was simple.

“It did come as an easy decision knowing he was in the state that he was in and he wasn’t going to be leaving anyway,” she said. “I knew that if someone else could benefit from what he had, and somebody could be saved and didn’t have to go through what my family was going through, I wanted him to be able to do that.”

Steve donated two corneas, a liver, and – through a direct donation to Howie – one kidney.

Steve crossed the finish line of the Ironman Canada with his two oldest children.

Steve crossed the finish line of the Ironman Canada with his two oldest children.

“The drive down to the hospital was a very strange feeling knowing that I’ve got this kidney coming my way and on the other hand I knew Steve was not going to make it,” Howie said. “I’m giving Rabbi the credit. Had he not done that there’s a chance I’d still be waiting for the call.”

Five years later, Howie is doing well with a kidney in incredible condition thanks to Steve’s excellent health as an athlete. As for Claire, she and her children have continued to volunteer at the Ironman every year in honor of Steve and his love for the competition.

“I hope they feel some comfort knowing I’m doing well because of Steve and because of his decision to be a donor,” Howie said.   “You never know who or when someone will be involved in a tragic accident and it changes people’s lives.”

Contact writer Ashley Anderson at aanderson@voice-tribune.com, 502.498.2051.

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Ashley Anderson

Ashley spends half her time writing stories at The Voice-Tribune office and half her time out on the town conducting interviews, while occasionally dressing in wild outfits to fully immerse herself in the experience (aka Princess Leia at Comic Con). Ashley is a huge UofL fan and loves the Yankees and the Boston Celtics (she is fully aware of the irony). She hopes to one day outshine Erin Andrews on ESPN and enjoys running, Bardstown Road/Fourth Street, Breaking Bad and reality TV (she’s not ashamed to admit that).

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