“I’m not a really emotional guy but I’ve had some emotional moments in my life. I’m married. I have three kids. But, nothing prepared me for that moment when I walked into his hospital room and saw him. I just broke down. I’ve never cried like that before in my life.”
– Brother Neil Grunberg (McGill, 2000)
Saving a life can have that kind of impact on everyone.
A Toronto native, Brother Grunberg attended McGill university in Montreal and immediately connected with AEPi. “At the time, it was my first time away from home for the holidays. AEPi seemed to be a safe place to hang out and be understood. I loved that.”
But, this isn’t a story about Brother Grunberg’s time in AEPi. It’s about saving a life.
After graduation, Neil began his professional career as a chapter consultant (now called Educational Leadership Consultant) for AEPi and expanded his love for the fraternity and its mission. Moving back to Toronto, he began a career in the technology space which eventually led to him starting his own company, selling it and starting another company which became a global success. “I wanted to return, though, to the early-stage businesses. I started a VC fund focused on early-stage technologies globally, not just in Canada.” That fund has become the largest independent (not institution-bound) fund in Canada for a first-time fund raiser.
But, this isn’t a story about Brother Grunberg’s professional successes. It’s about saving a life. (More about Neil’s professional success story will be told at an upcoming AEPi dinner in Toronto on Sunday November 12. For more information, and to register, please visit aepi.org/torontogala).
“I have three beautiful daughters. Two of them play high-level competitive hockey. It’s hard to be a kid…hard to be a Jewish kid…hard to be a girl…hard to be a girl playing hockey…and, harder still to be a Jewish girl playing hockey.” Calling on talents honed as an AEPi Chapter Consultant, Brother Grunberg has been building a network of Jewish girls playing hockey and finding opportunities for them. “I’m bringing together Jewish girl hockey players and trying to find or create occasions for them to play more and to expand the game. I’m helping to lead the effort to bring girl hockey to the Maccabiah games in Israel.”
But, this also isn’t a story about a Girl Dad looking out for his daughters and supporting them. It’s about saving a life. Let’s tell that story now:
“My wife’s first cousin’s husband. I knew him well but not well enough. He’s a great guy, the kind of guy who would drop anything for anyone. I saw him and noticed that he was kind of down, low energy. About a year ago (summer of 2022), I found out that he was dying kidney failure.”
In October of last year, the family helped put on a swab drive to try to find a match. “Honestly, the speaker and the concept had me a little bit worried and I thought maybe I don’t want to do this, but I knew if I didn’t do it…what if no one matches with him and he died? I knew that I’d feel a lot of guilt and so I thought I better just do it. I got swabbed.”
Shortly after the event, Brother Grunberg got a call and was told that he matched. “They told me that I could choose what to do. I didn’t have to do anything and could never tell anyone if I didn’t feel like it. But, I said let’s learn more.” After seven rounds of testing including multiple blood tests, a CT scan and a chest x-ray along with an arsenal of other tests, it was determined that Brother Grunberg qualified for the transplant.
On August 18 of this year, Brother Grunberg had surgery to transplant one of his kidneys to the donor. “I am doing amazing (editor’s note: this interview was conducted on August 28, just 10 days following the transplant) and within four to eight weeks, I should be back to feeling myself. But I went to work for a little while today.”
“The day after the surgery, the doctors had me get up and take a walk in the hospital. My room was about 250 feet from his room. I walked to his room and looked in. His face was filled with life and colour for the first time in a long time. He had a bag hanging nearby with his urine…good quality urine that had passed through my kidney. I saw that and it was just amazing. I broke down and started to bawl uncontrollably. I’ve never cried like that before in my life.”
“This was the most amazing experience of my life. I hadn’t even checked the box on my license to be an organ donor before and now I want to tell everyone to do everything they can. Donate stem cells. Give blood. Be an organ donor. Everyone doesn’t have to be a living donor. But, we should all try to do more.”
The experience of saving a life has impacted Brother Grunberg. “I’ve started to look at things that are most important to me. I’m going to be getting more involved in AEPi moving forward. I’ll be attending the Business Networking Summit in Las Vegas in October for a day and I’m really looking forward to seeing people at the Toronto dinner.”
For now, the best thing is seeing his recipient continue to recover and knowing that he has impacted others. “My kids are pretty proud of me too.”
AEPi is proud of you too, Brother.
(Editor’s note: AEPi has a nearly 20-year partnership with Gift of Life to raise awareness among college students about the life-saving potential of bone marrow transplants. The program has now resulted in more than 17,300 swabs, 702 matches and 86 transplants. Undergraduates looking for more information about the program should speak with their Regional Directors who can help chapters organize swab drives on their campuses).