Vera’s Kidney, Walter’s Money: Desperation, Greed and the Global Organ Trade
She was a poor Russian immigrant in Israel, he was a well-off German businessman. The case of Vera and Walter reveals a thriving illegal trade in kidneys and other organs — and shows how it is fueled by desperation.
The deal brought together two people who had nothing in common. They were from different cultures, spoke different languages and would never meet. The only thing they shared was desperation.
It was 2008 when a wealthy, 74-year-old businessman from the western German state of North Rhine-Westphalia decided to ignore the law and morality in order to save his own life. The businessman’s first name is Walter, and he had suffered from high blood pressure since the age of 50. He had been forced to take strong drugs for 20 years, but now his kidney, responsible for sifting toxins out of the blood, were failing. Walter needed dialysis.
But he didn’t tolerate dialysis very well. He suffered from cramps, pain and anxiety. He was also having trouble with his heart, so doctors inserted stents to improve blood flow. There were complications, and Walter had to be operated on again and again. The doctors diagnosed two infarctions and Walter was taken to the hospital in an ambulance. His wife and his son looked on as his body began to fail. His immune system declined, as did his mental state.
Doctors told him he had just a few months left to live — and he knew that he was far down on the waiting list for a new kidney. It would likely be years before his name rose to the top. His family members became increasingly bitter. They no longer perceived the German doctors as helpers but, rather, as dialysis gangsters who were primarily interested in collecting the €70,000 ($88,000) they could bill annually for his regular dialysis treatments and medications.
But then the family saw a television documentary about the illegal organ trade. The journalist in the report sharply criticized organ traffickers and their shady operations. But with Walter’s health declining from day to day, the villains in the program began to seem like potential saviors to his family. They tried to call one of the organ traffickers featured in the program, but he either didn’t want to or couldn’t deliver. Then, says the son, they called the TV reporter to ask about a second contact she had mentioned in the story.