About the Lerners
The Lerners are from Evanston, Illinois, just north of Chicago. Joel is a staff photojournalist for Pioneer Press, a chain of weekly suburban newspapers, and a freelancer for the Chicago Sun-Times. His specialty is shooting high school sports, but recent awards have been for features. While professionally competitive, he is known for his generosity. Lending his equipment, time and expertise is common. For five summers he's participated in projects teaching kids photography. He currently lives in Barrington, about 40 minutes from Chicago, with Olive, Cosmo and Tim - his cat, dog and roommate respectively. He enjoys basketball, tennis, biking, and the cinema. His eclectic taste in music includes girl bands and the opera. He became engaged in September 1997 when he proposed for the last time and I said yes.
Joel's parents, Howard and Rona, still live in the house in Evanston where Joel grew up. Howard works at a law firm as a collection agent and Rona is a fifth-grade science teacher for the Chicago public schools. They enjoy movies, their garden, Sunday brunches with family and short vacations in the Midwest or in Florida where their daughter Elita and other family live. The ordeal of tests and dialysis curtail many of their plans and ambitions.
About their story
When it was determined in late 1996 that Howard's latest kidney was failing and Joel would donate one of his, Todd Heisler, Joel and I, discussed documenting the procedure. All of us are photojournalists. Todd works with Joel at Pioneer and I am a photo editor and independent photojournalist currently pursuing my masters at Ohio University. "This would be a good story", we thought. It became obvious who should do it - us.
We worked on this project for ourselves and agreed if we found the work worthy we'd offer it to one of the newspapers. Published or not, I believe documenting the process for Joel, Howard and their family was helpful. During difficult tests and ultimately the surgeries, Joel and Howard had a friend around for support and a camera to record it all for them.
Todd did the majority of the shooting. He took days off to follow Joel and Howard. During surgery not only were we worried for Joel and Howard, but for Todd too. He was on his feet a long time and witnessing the surgery of a friend. I shot rarely. My work schedule didn't allow me much time off and when I was available I needed to play the role of supportive girlfriend. Joel made pictures occasionally of his father, but while in the hospital for the surgery made polaroids of staff and friends to amuse himself.
We all learned a lot about the miracles of medical science and the nature of health care in the 1990's. Much of it was positive, but not entirely. And, we witnessed the close relationship of a father and son, the devotion of our friend and his father to each other.
The Lerners, Todd and I are pleased to have their story told. We hope it to be interesting, informative and encouraging to those needing transplants and anyone considering organ donation.
The last page of the story includes a link to more information about kidney transplantation.