A Perfect Match
Josh Bleichman (BA ‘22, economics) was in his ECON 4831 Cost Benefit Analysis class when he received an email with life-changing news. He had “matched” successfully and cleared his medical evaluation to become a living kidney donor. The recipient? His mom.
“I was in lecture and got an email from my kidney coordinator that said, ‘hey just wanted to reach out and say congratulations. You came back clean and everything looks good,’” Bleichman recalled. “I almost started to break down, I was so relieved.”
It was a moment that had been decades in the making. Bleichman’s mom Lisa had undergone a kidney transplant in 1992 and was told that the donated organ would last between five and ten years. Although the kidney functioned considerably longer than anticipated, the family always knew that a second transplant was inevitable. And then, in the summer of 2022, the time had come.
As the youngest of three siblings, Bleichman was also third in line for donor consideration, but when his sisters weren’t compatible, he knew he wanted to undergo the evaluation process. “We all would have done it,” he said. “It just happened that it’s me.” His hospital appointment was extensive—over three hours long—and uncomfortable, involving the consumption of several gallons of water, blood draws every half hour, and the injection of a drug that made his veins “icy cold.”
Even still, when the email finally arrived in his inbox a few months later, Bleichman described it as one of the happiest moments of his life.
“I’ll be honest, I’m definitely nervous and a little scared,” he shared. “But I’m trying to focus on the positives. I’ve been doing a bunch of reading and have been in contact with the surgeon. I’ve learned that people who donate their kidney tend to live longer because you have to live a healthier lifestyle.”
In the end, Bleichman said, “I’m doing this for my mom, I’m not doing it for me.”
The upcoming surgery has prompted a somewhat untraditional finish to his senior year. Bleichman intends to graduate in December and return home to his family in Arlington Heights, Illinois. After that, he acknowledged, things are “kind of hazy.”
“In terms of work, I want to stay close to Chicago, at least for the first year because I’ll have several follow-up appointments at the University of Illinois Chicago,” he said. “I’ve been applying and interviewing for [finance jobs], letting them know that, because of the surgery, it’s complicated when I can start. Luckily, they have been understanding.”
Eventually, Bleichman may return to the classroom to pursue either his MBA or law degree, two distinct paths made possible by the “incredible flexibility” of his economics major. But in the face of uncertainty, he’s open-minded. “If I’m enjoying what I’m doing, that changes everything.”
For now, Bleichman remains focused on enjoying his final weeks as a CLA student and preparing for final exams before he goes home. He’s not counting his time in Minnesota as over just yet; he hopes to return to participate in graduation festivities with his friends in May.
And while he’s trying not to let January’s surgery consume his thoughts, he is especially mindful of the impact it has had on his mom.
“At one point, she was told she was never going to be able to have children so she fought really hard for us,” Bleichman said. “And I think it’s hard for her to accept that she was going to have to take a kidney from one of us. She’s incredibly grateful, she’s told me that, but she doesn’t have to. I would have done it regardless.”