The woman in need of a kidney and the man willing to sell one to her: ‘I’m at the end of the line’

Regime forces burst into a village in the east Homs countryside last November to drive the Islamic State out. Fadi a-Salamah, 36, fled Mahin with his family and headed 160 km south to Damascus.

When he arrived in the capital, a-Salamah began working the graveyard shift in a fast food restaurant. After four months, he was stopped and interrogated one night at a checkpoint.

Fearing for his life, a-Salamah quit his job.

Unable to find work, he exhausted his SP400,000 savings (about $2,000). His landlord threatened to kick him, his wife and his three young children out of their house.

Desperate to keep his family off the streets, a-Salamah turned to what he considers all he has left to sell—his kidney, for $4,000.

A-Salamah went to a nearby hospital where he conducted a kidney screening and tissue-type test. He left his number with the doctor in the event a patient with compatible blood and tissue types needed a kidney.

On June 20, a-Salamah received a call from a 50-year-old Damascene woman with failing kidneys. The woman is the aunt of Syria Direct’s Bahira al-Zarier, and asked that her name not be published.

After 20 years of kidney disease, the woman says her doctor told her that weekly dialysis treatments were no longer effective. 

When the doctor told her that her and a-Salameh’s tissue were 100 percent compatible, “I almost couldn’t contain my joy.”

“At the same time, I feel guilty because I’m taking advantage of someone’s financial need.”

At the time of the interview, a-Salamah and the woman were waiting for the doctor to set an appointment for the operation.

Fadi a-Salamah, who fled Homs in 2015, is selling his kidney for $4,000.

Q: Why did you decide to sell your kidney?

In November, the regime shelled Mahin because Islamic State fighters were in the town. Everyone fled the city. Some went to border camps, but I went to Damascus with my family because I don’t want my kids living in a camp.

After the regime took Mahin, it burned down civilian houses.

I lost my clothing store and all of its products. When I arrived in Damascus I had about SP400,000 ($2,000) with me. My wife also had some gold.

We stayed with a relative for a month. Then we rented a furnished house in Muhajarin and paid SP25,000 ($116) a month. I looked for work for two months until I found a job. I worked for four months at a fast food restaurant and took home SP450 ($2) a day. Since I worked the night shift, I came home at 3am.

Once when I was on my way home, I got stopped at a checkpoint and interrogated about where I had been. I was scared so after that I began looking for another job. I didn’t find anything.

Now I don’t have any work and we spent all of the money we brought with us. The landlord wants the rent. He’ll kick my children and me out of the house. My kids are young. The oldest is only six years old.

I don’t receive aid from any charity since I’m young and technically still able to work.

Syria is at war. I have a family that needs to eat and drink. They need clothes. And it’s my duty as a father to provide this for them. One of my sons is nine months old and he needs milk.

I need to pay rent, I have no work, things are expensive and I’m scared that I’ll be arrested or I’ll die in an explosion and leave my family.

I’m at the end of the line. Then I heard that someone needed a kidney and that he’s willing to pay a generous amount.

 An alley in Muhajarin, Damascus where Fadi lives. Photo courtesy of Lens Young Dimashqi.

Q: How did your family respond?

My wife strongly opposed the idea. She started crying and told me that we can live in the streets. She said not to sell my kidney because health is more important than money.

But I still insist on selling it. We’re going to die anyway—from hunger, an explosion or a bomb. Or they’ll arrest us and we’ll serve in the army. Or I’ll get accused of something.

Q: How much did you ask for? How many people contacted you before Um Jamal?

I asked for $4,000 in American dollars, not Syrian pounds, since the pound is always dropping. [Before Um Jamal,] I received two offers. One person offered $2,000 and another person proposed $2,800.

Q: Are you afraid that something will go wrong during the operation?

Of course I’m scared. Everything you want to do has a huge cost, because with any small mistake, you’ll be gone. I feel like we’re already dead. What God has decided will happen. If I died, at least I secured some money for my children. That’s better than dying with nothing.

Q: Are you sure you want to live the rest of your life without a kidney?

Many people have lived with one kidney and nothing happened to them. War made us hate everything in the world. We no longer desire things. The citizen is the most worthless thing in this country. He’s worth less than a kilo of tomatoes.

We don’t even get enough water and electricity all of the time. I have to pay rent and provide for my family and things are expensive. And you’re asking me if I’ll change my mind?

Q: Why don’t you leave?

Where will we go? To a camp in the desert where I’ll wallow in shame and defeat?

No, I’ll sell my kidney and all of my organs. I’ll die before seeing my kids living in disgrace in the desert camps.

Q: Selling your kidneys is a crime. Are you afraid of breaking the law?

Law? What law? Where is the law when people die of hunger? Where will the law be when my kids and I are on the street because I didn’t pay rent? There’s no more law in Syria, there’s nothing left except for death and sadness and despair. Come here and see how people are experiencing tragedies, people who have bigger problems than selling a kidney.

Below, an interview with a Damascene woman who has suffered from kidney disease for 20 years. In June, she contacted Fadi through her doctor, after discovering that their respective tissue is 100 percent compatible:

Q: Tell me about your health. Why do you need a kidney?

My health has deteriorated. I used to do a kidney dialysis weekly but a month ago my doctor said he could no longer do it because they’ll stop working.

I really need a new kidney.

My children’s tissues don’t match, so I had to search for someone who was willing to sell his kidney. My doctor said that several people who want to sell their kidneys run medical tests about their tissue match and they leave their numbers in the hospital for someone to contact them.

Q: Is that how you found Fadi?

I got his number from the hospital, along with a big list of people who were selling their kidneys. When we showed the tissue report to the doctor, he said that we were 100 percent compatible. I could barely contain my joy. I was so happy because I had contacted many people and always ended up with negative results.

At the same time, I feel guilty because I’m taking advantage of someone’s financial need.

Q: Did you and he agree on a price?

Fadi asked for $4,000 in addition to paying the costs of the tissue analysis he ran. He asked for the money in American dollars since the value of the Syrian pound is falling.

I asked him to lower his price, but he refused. I need a kidney and in my opinion it’s his right to ask for that amount.

Q: Are you afraid of any complications during the surgery?

My kidneys have stopped working. If I don’t get this surgery, then I’ll die. If there are any complications, well, I did my part and the rest is up to God.

Bahira al-Zarier

Bahira is from Damascus. She studied business and marketing before moving to Jordan in 2013. She did volunteer work in support of many refugee organizations before joining Syria Direct.

Faten Raja

Faten is originally from Damascus and was an energy engineering student when the revolution started. She couldn't continue her education because of the unstable situation at home and moved to Jordan in 2102. Since then she has volunteered with multiple organizations to keep active and help people. She wishes to be a journalist to spread the truth about Syria.

Jessica Page, Reporter/Translator

Jessica was a 2013-2014 Georgetown University Qatar Scholarship Program fellow in Doha, Qatar. She received her BA in both Arabic and International & Area Studies from Washington University in St. Louis. She has worked and studied in Jordan, Oman, and Qatar.

Kristen Demilio

Kristen Gillespie Demilio has more than 10 years of experience reporting from the Middle East while based in Amman. She regularly contributed to news outlets including CBS News Radio, NPR, The Jerusalem Report and PBS and is a graduate of Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism as well as the Institut Français des Etudes Arabes in Damascus.