South African tourist’s organs save 5 Israeli lives

South African tourist’s organs save 5 Israeli lives

‘My sister would have really wanted this to happen,’ says brother of Lydia Labuschagne, who died of allergic reaction to sesame

Yifa Yaakov is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Lydia Labuschagne. (photo credit: Facebook)
Lydia Labuschagne. (photo credit: Facebook)

When a South African tourist died in Israel from a food allergy last week, her family was devastated. But when the time came, Lydia Labuschagne’s relatives didn’t hesitate, and decided to donate her organs to Israeli patients, saving five lives.

Labuschange died on March 31 from a severe sesame allergy one week after eating fish seasoned with tehina in a Jerusalem restaurant. Though she was aware of her sesame allergy, she did not know the tehina sauce was sesame-based.

Within minutes of eating the fish, Labuschange suffered a severe allergic reaction and was rushed to the capital’s Shaare Zedek Medical Center.

For days, Labuschange remained in the intensive care unit, unconscious and in critical condition, while the hospital staff tried to save her life. However, last Tuesday, she succumbed to the severe allergic reaction and lost all brain activity.

A believing Christian who once worked at the Hatfield Christian Church in Pretoria, South Africa, Labuschange had come to Israel as a tourist. She had recently graduated from the University of Pretoria, where she studied primary education.

She then moved to Johannesburg, where she took up work as a teacher at Waterstone College. When the school shared the news of the tragedy on its Facebook page, parents and colleagues alike were quick to praise Labuschange’s inspirational, empowering influence on the children she had taught.

“She was a wonderful person and teacher… she was a huge inspiration to my daughter,” said the mother of one student. “May her soul rest in peace.”

Lydia Labuschagne at her graduation. (photo credit: Facebook)
Lydia Labuschagne at her graduation. (photo credit: Facebook)

While she was still in the ICU, the school also raised money to help Labuschange’s family visit her in Israel.

As the doctors struggled to save her life, her family traveled to Jerusalem to be by her side. And when she died, despite their grief, they immediately agreed to donate her organs to Israeli patients in need.

The transplants were conducted last Tuesday, saving the lives of five Israeli patients.

One of them, Miri Avrahami, a 33-year-old mother of three young children, was the recipient of Labuschange’s liver.

Avrahami had been a perfectly healthy woman until two weeks previously, when her liver had suddenly collapsed, possibly due to a virus, Channel 2 reported. Her life was in grave danger.

Then, last Tuesday, she was informed that she would receive the liver transplant. She underwent the operation later that same day.

Prof. Eytan Mor, who heads the Rabin Medical Center’s Department of Organ Transplantation, told a reporter that Avrahami would not have been able to wait another day for an organ donation — possibly not even another 12 hours.

“There would have been nothing left for us to do,” Mor said. “She wouldn’t have survived.”

On Tuesday afternoon, with the operation behind her and with her husband by her side, a teary-eyed Avrahami, moved to tears, spoke to Labuschange’s brother Nick over the phone to thank him for saving her life.

Miri Avrahami and her husband thank Lydia Labuschagne's brother Nick for agreeing to donate his sister's organs to Israeli patients in need. (photo credit: screen capture, Channel 2 News)
Miri Avrahami and her husband thank Lydia Labuschagne’s brother Nick for agreeing to donate his sister’s organs to Israeli patients in need. (photo credit: screen capture, Channel 2 News)

“My sister would have really wanted this to happen,” Nick said. “My sister, basically, she lived like an angel, and she would want to do what Jesus did — that is, to help people and to save lives.”

“Thanks [to] your sister, I’m alive,” Avrahami said. “It’s a miracle.”

Labuschange’s brother couldn’t help but agree with her assessment.

“I’m glad I got to meet you,” he said in parting. “I can see your smile is like hers.”

Avrahami’s husband, who was sitting by her side, replied, “We love you.”

Due to halachic and other concerns, organ donation in Israel is relatively low, with over 1,000 patients awaiting transplants, although recent campaigns have seen a rise in the number of Israelis opting to sign donor cards.

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