She hates to ask but maybe you can help (or know someone who can)


Rachel Vaillancourt sits in the cozy family room of  her dearest friend Beloria Levy. After four decades, the two are as much sisters as they are friends. As Rachel reflects on the life experiences leading up to her current challenge, the two finish one another’s sentences, switching effortlessly between English and their native French. With an easy smile that mirrors her  joie de vivre,  Rachel appears far younger than her 79 years.

Rachel is fiercely independent and disdains asking for help from anyone for anything, she is much more comfortable being on the giving end. So it was her friend Beloria that asked me to meet with Rachel so that I might share her story. I asked my sister Lea Hanan, herself an expert on kidney donation to join us.  Rachel needs help, more specifically she needs a kidney.

Rachel needs help, more specifically she needs a kidney.

Rachel’s life has taken many unexpected twists and turns. She and her eight siblings were born and raised in the winding alleys of the ancient Moroccan city of Essaouira.  The place looks like the imagined mysterious Middle Eastern cities of film and Agatha Christie novels, so much so that it has been used as a movie location by the likes of Orson Welles and Oliver Stone.

Rachel with grandchildren Sophia (left) and Andrew (right).

Rachel with grandchildren Sophia (left) and Andrew (right).

Due to political instability  in the early 1960’s, Rachel was readying to flee Morocco with her family. Instead she met Alfred Vaillancourt a handsome young member of the United States Air Force. He swept her off her feet and she him. Before long they were  married and she was living with her new husband in Glasgow, Montana where Alfred had been stationed.

Not speaking a word of English and living in a remote Western town, Rachel soldiered through. She made friends and learned the language. The most difficult part she says was being the only Jewish couple in town. “There was no kosher meat, it was a year of living as a vegetarian before some friends brought in some kosher meat from Minnesota.”

From Glasgow they moved to Reno where in 1965 they had their first and only child David. Upon discharge from the Air Force Alfred found work at Boeing in Seattle.  Rachel began a long career as a fitter at Nordstrom’s downtown flagship store. So Seattle is where they remained.

The Vaillancourts quickly embraced and were themselves embraced by the warm Seattle Sephardic Community. The local Turkish synagogue “Sephardic Bikur Holim is a central part of my life” says Rachel. She almost  never misses Shabbat (Sabbath) prayers and is an active member of the sisterhood.

Whenever the Sephardic ladies are baking their famous delicacies “I am there” Says Rachel. “If they baked  four days a week, I was there to help four days a week”. Now it is down to two days a week during baking season, the other three days Rachel has dialysis.  This is the part Rachel does not like talking about, her kidneys are failing her.

"Rachel, you have to tell people" said Beloria (left) to her dear friend.

“Rachel you have to tell people” said Beloria (left) to her dear friend.

When her sister was diagnosed with a  genetic kidney disease thirty years ago, Rachel informed her physician and soon after found she shared the same condition. Rachel faced the problem head on, enhanced her already active lifestyle and embraced a kidney healthy diet. This proactive approach added many years to the life of  her kidney.

Rachel has always faced adversity thus.  She managed after her beloved husband’s passing in 1999 and successfully overcame other obstacles big and small with the same stubborn determination. But this is different, this she cannot resolve on her own.

Eight months ago her kidneys finally gave out.  She began dialysis. The treatments take several hours and are three days a week. Dialysis is a life lengthening blessing. But for an active otherwise healthy woman like Rachel, who loves spending time with her two grandchildren, visiting with family and friends  in Israel and around the world it can  feel like a ball and chain.

Rachel is in remarkable physical shape which is a must to be placed on the kidney donor list, which she was. Now she must find a donor. ” But she didn’t tell anybody” says her friend Beloria. “Nobody knew she was sick” I told her “Rachel, you have to tell people”.

Lea Hanan,  a Kidney Donor, having donated to her father three years ago explains.  “The hardest part for people is to ask for help, but this is one of those things where there is no way around it, you have to ask.” The good news is that donating a kidney is easier than ever. The days of needing a perfect match are over, anybody in reasonable shape with the same blood type can donate to the recipient of their choice. Even if  your blood type is incompatible you can still donate a kidney through a Paired Exchange” which will assure your desired recipient gets a kidney.

Each of us has within us the gift of life, why not share it?

 “Everybody is born with two kidneys” Lea said “most of us need only one. Each of us has within us the gift of life, why not share it? Since I donated I have been blessed to meet a whole new community of donors, these are the kindest, most generous people you will ever meet”.

Because kidney disease runs in her family, Rachel’s immediate family members are unable to donate. Thus to regain her health, she needs a friend or even a stranger willing and able to donate a kidney.

 “I have never asked anybody for anything in my life” said Rachel “but I want to live so I need to ask”.

Please help spread the word by sharing this story. If you or someone you know may be able to help Rachel in her search for a kidney she may be reached at 206-725-6035. Discretion and privacy will be honored. For more information on Kidney donation call the Kidney information line: at 800-354-9527 ext. 11201. 

[2014 The Mike Report]

Related Articles

Lea Hanan Donates a Kidney to her Father

King 5 News on Lea Hanan & Albert Behar (pre-donation)

King 5 News on Lea Hanan Kidney Donation (follow up)

San Diego Woman Donates Kidney to Stranger

Mom Donates Kidney to Save Stranger’s Life

NJ Mother and Daugher Donate Kidneys to Perfect Strangers