Susie Hochenberg did her part to save her husband’s life: She donated a kidney. And Mount Sinai Health System did its part, saving Bill Hochenberg’s life four times. Now Susie is expressing her gratitude by donating part of the retirement annuity she built up while teaching middle school in Harlem for 27 years.
“I can’t begin to tell you how wonderful Mount Sinai is,” says Susie, who cites the Recanati/Miller Transplantation Institute and dialysis staff who performed the kidney surgeries. “The entire staff works together like a symphony orchestra: Everyone has their individual job but they all work together as one.
“My husband is back at work feeling great, and I feel great too,” says Susie, who is an active volunteer in Mount Sinai’s art program. “When you donate something as precious as a kidney, there are no bad days. I saved my husband’s life with the help of Mount Sinai.”
Mount Sinai first treated Bill—for cancer—when he and Susie were courting almost 40 years ago. Then, in preparation for the kidney transplant, he needed a quadruple heart bypass with an aortic valve replacement. That was followed by almost two years of life-saving kidney dialysis. “Giving him a new kidney was the fourth time saving his life,” Susie says.
She asserts that giving from her teachers’ annuity has been an easy way to say thanks.
“As a teacher you are allowed to put aside a percentage of your salary in a tax-deferred annuity from the board of education,” Susie explains. “I never touched it, and it accrued interest every year—so it has grown exponentially.” The gift qualifies the Hochenbergs for membership in the Legacy Society of Mount Sinai.
“The Mount Sinai doctors are amazing, and they stay there forever,” Susie says. “William Schwartz has been my husband’s interventional cardiologist for more than 20 years. Marvin Goldstein has been my husband’s internist for 40 years and even makes house calls. One time he came on a Sunday to our house when my husband was very ill. What doctor does that?”
She similarly praised the dialysis professionals and the transplant team, who managed her “living donor” surgery as well as Bill’s transplant procedure.
“My recovery was very fast: I was in the hospital for just two and a half days,” she says. You only need one kidney, and you are born with two. Eighteen Americans die each day waiting for a kidney. The best news I ever got was that I am a match to my husband. But if I hadn’t been a match, I could have donated to a stranger—and a stranger could have donated to my husband.”
Susie earned her bachelor’s degree at Mount Holyoke, followed by a fellowship at Columbia University’s Teachers College. During her career teaching middle school language arts in central Harlem, she helped her students publish a magazine and create the first teen guide to Harlem—and was once named Teacher of the Year for Central Harlem’s school district. Since her retirement, Susie has taught herself to be a watercolor artist and a pianist—and exhibits both skills for the benefit of Mount Sinai. She teaches art to dialysis patients and has created dozens of hand-painted greeting cards for staff. Each year she puts on a recital on the hospital’s grand piano for April’s Donate Life month; this year she played Chopin and tunes from Fiddler on the Roof. Next year she plans to feature Simon and Garfunkel.
“As long as I can walk, I will be a volunteer at Mount Sinai—which has done so much for my family,” Susie says.
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