August 20, 2019

Giving Kidney Patients Hope

When Gabriel Schenkman was 9 days old, he was diagnosed with hypoplastic kidney disease, meaning his kidneys were smaller than normal. In June 2016, just before his 15th birthday, Gabriel received a kidney from his mother, Elisa, and he’s now healthy. But his story doesn’t end there. 

Gabriel, his mother, his twin sister, Amanda, his older sister, Shelby, and his father, Michael, established the GOFARR Fund (which stands for Gabriel’s Organization Funding All Renal Research) to support renal disease treatment and research at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles (CHLA), where Gabriel has been treated since infancy and where Elisa serves on the board. They have always been involved in fundraising for the hospital, persuading friends and relatives to donate, and participating in toy drives. But their efforts kicked into high gear five years ago when the twins were preparing for their bar and bat mitzvahs at Stephen Wise Temple.

Amanda suggested they hold a benefit event as a mitzvah project, and the whole family got to work. Their inaugural bowling party raised over $100,000, and their efforts since then have brought in more than $7 million. “I want to make a difference every single day, and this is the best way I can do it,” Gabe told the Journal, adding that he hopes to expand GOFARR beyond L.A.

“Nephrology is a poor stepchild to cancer in terms of funding and we’re aiming to fill that gap.” — Michael Schenkman

He also works with the virtual reality technology company EVRLAND to bring headsets featuring travel and nature videos to Children’s Hospital patients. “It gives the kids experiences that they never would have otherwise and gives them hope for the future,” he said.

Amanda, who grew up feeling guilty that her brother was afflicted and she was not, is equally committed. A budding filmmaker, she made a short film in 2016 about her family’s story in order to bring attention to the work of GOFARR. “For me, the goal is global awareness,” she said. She hopes to shoot a new video to spread the word.

With 100,000 people awaiting kidney transplants in the United States, there’s no time to waste. “Nephrology is a poor stepchild to cancer in terms of funding and we’re aiming to fill that gap,” Michael, an entertainment attorney, said. He noted that GOFARR has funded research at CHLA that is investigating regenerative and stem-cell therapies “to prevent the need for transplants in the future.” GOFARR also refurbished the hospital’s dialysis center. 

Elisa is proud of the twins, now 17-year-old juniors at Brentwood High School, as well as USC graduate Shelby, who works at United Talent Agency. “They’ve put their hearts and souls into this and they’ve made a difference,” she said. “The beauty of the whole journey is we took a very difficult situation have turned it into a positive, life-changing one.”

Read more about our 2019 mensches here.