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G Force

Brotherly love and support

By Karen Weintraub
Globe Correspondent / November 28, 2011
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WHO

Mark and Scott Schuster

WHAT

Thirty-three years ago, when Mark and younger brother Scott Schuster were college students at Tufts University, Scott’s kidneys began to fail from a hereditary problem. Mark decided to donate one of his kidneys, and the transplant was a success.

Mark, Scott, and their parents, Gerald and Elaine Schuster, have donated more than $5 million to Brigham and Women’s Hospital, much of which will go to support the hospital’s new Schuster Transplant Center and Transplant Research Center.

Q. Mark, was it a difficult decision to donate a kidney to your brother Scott?

Mark: I think it was an opportunity and I took it as such. I saw what was happening to him. I’m sure it frightened him and it frightened me as well. My reaction was simply: I’m in.

Scott: It was remarkably difficult and hard on everybody. It’s much harder to be a brother or a mother or father than it is to be the patient. I know my dad couldn’t go to work for several months while this was going on. My mother was very distraught throughout the process and very strong. It was just a very difficult time for her, to have two of your [four] children in the hospital at the same time, both being operated on is incredibly stressful.

Q. Has the experience brought you all together as a family?

Scott: This is a success story. A story of family, of people pulling together, of being together, of making sacrifices for each other in a lot of different ways. Not just Mark and the donation, but parents, family, and other siblings.

Q. Has it changed the way you view each other, even three decades later?

Scott: Mark doesn’t want to hear this, but he’s the hero - because you just don’t give away a piece of your body lightly. I don’t care how old you are. It takes a certain kind of a person to make that kind of a decision to put themselves at risk when they’re not at risk at all. He doesn’t talk about it. He doesn’t want to talk about it.

Mark: When I look at Scott, he’s married to a great woman. He’s got three fabulous kids. He’s got a thriving business. He’s got a lot better golf game than me. As I look back 33 years ago, and see what we did, we didn’t do it under the label of heroism. We went in together, we came out together and now there are others who have benefited besides Scott and me, and that’s the incredible magic about transplantation.

Q. So, that’s what motivated you to donate money for the transplant center?

Mark: This is where we understood the circumstances the best and could most favorably direct the capital.

Scott: Transplantation does not effect as many people as things like cancer or heart disease. It’s an area where making a contribution can be extraordinarily impactful, because there are not as many people making those contributions. We saw the need because of our experience. We understood what was needed in terms of creating a comprehensive care, a patient-centered approach to caring for transplant patients.

Q. What would you like to see come out of the money you’ve given for transplant research?

Scott: We’d like to see an answer to the questions of how to create tolerance and how to overcome the immune system response to transplantation, so that regardless of what you want to transplant - whether it’s organs, hands, faces, skin, whatever - you can create an environment where the host can accept the [transplant] without any complications and lead a healthy and full life for an unlimited period of time. That’s the vision. That’s our hope.

This interview has been edited and condensed. Karen Weintraub can be reached at Karen@KarenWeintraub.com

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