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Malden drummer stays upbeat while waiting for kidney

Posted by Marcia Dick  March 28, 2011 10:05 AM

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Arthur Litvak of Malden sleeps with his phone. As one of 82 people waiting for a call from Massachusetts General Hospital, Litvak knows news of an available kidney for a transplant could come at any minute.

“It’s a mystery as to when that call might come,” said Litvak, 61.
 
Litvak.JPG Litvak, who is a 1973 graduate of the Berklee School of Music and a jazz drummer, lost his left leg six years ago due to diabetic complications. “After that, I stopped everything, stopped teaching, stopped drumming,” said Litvak. “And it took me three years to start drumming again.”
 
Litvak also had taught English as a Second Language for Boston Public Schools, Madison Park High School, and La Alianza Hispana, but retired after losing his leg and begining treatment on dialysis.
 
“Dialysis itself is a complete full-time job,” said Vickie Dovner, 58, of Sharon, who’s been Litvak’s friend for the past two years. “It’s been an unbelievable struggle [for him].”
 
But Litvak doesn’t necessarily see it that way. Instead, he says he counts his blessings. “Every morning I wake up and say ‘Wow, man, I’m still here,’” he said. “I didn’t have a 30-foot wave crash through my home like thousands of people just did in Japan.”

Now Litvak plays the drums about once a month or whenever he finds time. His life as a drummer started when he was a child. At age 11, he took drum lessons where he grew up in Everett, for 25 cents per half hour, and now hopes to keep drumming no matter what treatment he has to endure.
 
“The real difference between dialysis and a full-time job is that it doesn’t matter what kind of day I’m having, if I don’t go, I don’t risk my job. I risk my life,” said Litvak.
 
Dovner has stuck by Litvak’s side through his treatment. “It’s no picnic waiting for results test after test,” she said. “It puts body and mind through a lot of stress.”
 
Litvak rarely drinks any fluids and cannot urinate. He has a fistula in his arm for the dialysis tubes and this past winter he had a hematoma on his neck and shoulder. Every dialysis treatment takes protein out of him and he’s had to give up many types of foods.

“But tomatoes and other foods are the least significant,” said Litvak. “I’ve had to give up my freedom.”
 
Fortunately, Litvak has many friends who have come and given him emotional support.
 
“It keeps me chipper,” said Litvak. “People tell me I have a positive attitude and I believe I do. But I also have a realistic attitude and I know this train ride could end any minute.”
 
Litvak hasn’t allowed himself to look too far in advance, but if he gets a transplant he thinks he’d like to pick up the drumsticks and also travel more. “I would be more active and visit friends, go places on the weekends, and substitute teach,” he said. “I wouldn’t be tied down to a clinic.”
 
According to the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network, there are 1,877 people like Litvak on the waiting list for a kidney transplant in Massachusetts alone. More than 87,000 people are waiting throughout the United States. Yet in the anxious struggle of waiting, Litvak has hope.
 
“This is a race that many don’t win,” said Litvak. “But I intend to win this race.”

This article is being published under an arrangement between The Boston Globe and the Gordon College News Service.

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