Elizabeth Lesser, Ben Fleisher to read as he awaits a kidney match


Ben Fleisher (photo by Dion Ogust)

Elizabeth Lesser

Omega Institute co-founder Elizabeth Lesser, who wrote a book about donating bone marrow to treat her sister’s lymphoma, said that despite all the associated trauma, “It’s a magical, mystical experience, giving another person part of your body to help them live. There’s something profound and mysterious about it.”

Woodstock Healing Arts co-founder Ben Fleisher currently needs a kidney donation and has been blogging about the process of facing death and seeking help. Lesser and Fleisher will read from their writings on Friday, February 2, from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m., at the Kleinert James Center for the Arts in Woodstock, in a benefit for Woodstock Healing Arts, sponsored by the Golden Notebook bookstore.

“Ben is the age of my kids,” said Lesser. “When you live in Woodstock, and your kids go to school together, it’s a true community. I love and respect him.” Coincidentally, Fleisher’s parents used to sell at craft shows along with the sister who received a bone marrow donation from Lesser. “I was the only sibling who matched her perfectly,” she recalled. “I went through a long process with her, preparing, doing the transplant, taking care of her afterwards. She died a year later.”


In her book Marrow: Love, Loss and What Matters Most, Lesser described the heart-wrenching experience, including the emotional cleanup she and her sister embarked upon. “After a bone marrow transplant,” she explained, “two of the biggest obstacles are that either she would reject my stem cells or my cells would attack her. We decided, on the mind-body level, to clean up our lifelong tendency to reject or attack each other as siblings. We had only a few weeks to go through it, since she had to have the transplant or die. We went through several therapy sessions, sweeping through our whole relationship from childhood on, explaining, forgiving, and moving on. It was a beautiful experience that took more courage than giving her my bone marrow did.”

Lesser is also the author of Broken Open: How Difficult Times Can Help Us Grow, a title she sees as perfectly applicable to Fleisher as he faces his own crisis. “The thing about Ben that’s so admirable,” she said, “is he’s always game for growing. He’s not approaching this with self-pity or ‘Why me?’— he’s growing into it. He’s a walking example of how to do it.”

“My kidneys are both basically done,” said Fleisher. “They’re functioning at five percent.” A condition known as IGA necropathy has degraded his kidneys to the point that he is now on dialysis. At first he felt overwhelmed and isolated. He has a wife and two small children, and he was just opening his new healing arts business. Then he decided to write a blog.

“Once I started being public,” he said, “I could talk to more people about it. I don’t feel vexed by it any more — I don’t feel alone. If I hit a roadblock or a big obstacle, I know the people around me won’t let me get stuck. I feel so taken care of, even though on the surface, I’m quite sick.”

Woodstock Healing Arts opened at Bradley Meadows just over a year ago, offering massage, naturopathic medicine, body-centered psychotherapy, and other modalities. Fleisher does acupuncture and energy work known as “zero balancing.” With such a steep investment, personally and financially, in alternative healing methods, he found it humbling to have to turn to the medical system for help. “My ego, my sense of who I am, is based on mind-body medicine. I realized how much this medicine can and can’t do. I’m thinking more integratively now. We’d be in the stone ages if we didn’t have Western medicine, but we would also be in the stone ages if we didn’t have alternatives.” He continues to support his health with diet, herbal supplements, acupuncture, and massage.

Meanwhile, Fleisher needs a kidney donor to save his life. Several friends stepped forward and went through the screening process but were rejected because they either did not match his blood type and other criteria, or because they were not in good enough physical condition to endure the stress of abdominal surgery. He’s on a donor list, which can take five to seven years to yield results, due to the large number of people waiting for kidneys and the stringent matching needs. If he doesn’t find a match within a few months, a friend has offered to join a matching program. The friend might not be a suitable match himself, but he could donate a kidney to someone else, making the next match on the donor list available to Fleisher, who remarked, “It’s the most touching thing in the world — beyond words.”

If someone cannot attend the reading but wants to donate to Woodstock Healing Arts, they may buy a ticket online as a donation.

The Golden Notebook presents “Through the Storm: Developing Resilience, Trust and Love in Difficult Times”, an evening of reading and discussion with Elizabeth Lesser and Ben Fleisher, on Friday, February 2, 7 to 9 p.m., at Kleinert James Center for the Arts, 36 Tinker Street, Woodstock. Tickets are $10, $50, or $250, with all proceeds going to Woodstock Healing Arts. Purchase tickets by going to Eventbrite.com and searching for “Through the Storm.” Read Ben Fleisher’s blog at https://woodstockhealingarts.com/blog.