Gennet Belay is an Ethiopian woman living in America. She and her husband escaped Ethiopia due to political oppression. If truth be told, she really shouldn't be alive today, but she is alive, very alive in Virginia. She is an accountant, perhaps out walking her dog at this very moment, taking care of her daughter, all because of the efforts and sacrifice of one man.
Harold Mintz lives in Paradise Cove with his wife and daughter. Harold has only one kidney. As most people know, you can live a perfectly normal life without a matching set. It is fairly unremarkable. The circumstance behind how Harold came to lose half of his kidney inventory is remarkable, unprecedented and inspiring. It just may be the key to how to really live in a society, connected and entwined with that society.
It all started a couple of decades ago. Harold learned that his father (in his mid 50s at the time), had inoperable cancer. Harold had six weeks to process this crushing reality before his father passed away. He and his brothers realized that nothing could have saved him.
They were powerless to save their father. No amount of money thrown at the cancer would have spared his life. That helplessness stayed with Harold; it fermented. A decade goes by...Harold gets a thought, and then a plan...he hears about how people are dying from not having healthy organs, kidneys and livers. Twenty five people alone are dying from the need for a healthy kidney. Gennet has been on dialysis for 12 years and she is looking like one day soon she will be one of those twenty five.
Perhaps as an ode to his father, Harold came up with an authentic act of selflessness.
"Since most of us are walking around with a spare, I thought 'well why not?' I couldn't help save my dad. Medical technology just wasn't there yet. But I knew that if I was able to donate one of my spares, we'd be saving someone's life. Not MY dad's, but someone's dad, or mother, son, daughter," he said.
When he called the organ donor authorities, they asked him to whom did he want to give his "extra" kidney, he said, "anyone who needs one."
The laws at the time prohibited a living person from giving an organ to an anonymous recipient. It was unheard of...who would do that anyways? Someone going under the scalpel at some calculable risk to his health and survival, to give a body part that comes as a matching set to someone they have never met, a stranger for God's sake? This notion was so foreign, so outside of societal norms, that Harold had to undergo psychiatric evaluation.
No one would have faulted Harold (or any of us) for passing on giving a body part (to anyone). After all, we are taught to hoard our money, protect ourselves, and our "own kind" with boundaries and firewalls, and mind our collective "businesses." We are encouraged to take care of our "families", but our responsibility stops there, right?
So, what does that make Harold Mintz? What kind of citizen is he? Just perhaps, we will live in a society someday where profound acts of selflessness, such as his, will be viewed as commonplace, to keep an excess of something will be considered abnormal, and a touch less evolved.
Why not treat everyone like family, or at least work up a sweat thinking about it?
Harold will tell you that he got way much more than a lost kidney in exchange. It has given his life some incredible perspective, and meaning. He doesn't like the "hero" label I can assure you, but he understands the "ripple" effect of acts such as this, so he is not bashful about sharing his story, hoping, maybe, to inspire a connection, a connection of one person to another.
Giving a kidney didn't come as a total shock to those who knew him. He began organizing blood drives since he left college in 1981 He currently sponsors a blood drive in Paradise Cove once a year.
Harold has done something very "repeatable." No, I don't mean that he should give another kidney (he has none to spare at this point). I mean that it is the (type) of act that just about anyone can generate. It just required a high level of thoughtfulness, and some courage.
It is so easy to go through life focusing on what is five feet in front of you. Harold's whole life has been about living "large." He has left giant footprints wherever he has been, affecting not just his friends and family but those who may never know him.
When Harold isn't giving blood or kidneys he is working closely with his childhood friend, producer/director (and fellow Paradise Cove resident) Tom Shadyac.
Harold acts as the communications director, among other things, for Shady Acres Entertainment. Harold left Washington DC a few years ago to take a position working closely with Shadyac. He spent much of last year on the road promoting ShadyAcres most recent project, the documentary "I AM," a documentary citing scientific and anecdotal evidence that all life is interconnected and that we can make profound impacts in people's lives by making meaningful connections.
Harold would like us to know that we can all help save someone's life - even by just signing your driver's license and being an organ donor.
Just to prove that he is an ordinary human, Harold will tell you that one of the great loves of his life is...food. Harold has a very passionate relationship with food. He claims to have built his life around it. He has been known to do some crazy stuff in order to get at some of life's culinary delights.
In the attached video clip he tells you a story of how he put a frequent flier ticket to good use; all in the name of food.
If you bump into Harold on the streets of Malibu just remember to be easy on the guy with only one kidney, and ask him for his very own "meatless" Chili recipe. He says it's better than your momma used to make it.