December 1, 2020 by Carol Britton Meyer
Hingham resident Elise Warhaftig said she was "really surprised" when she learned she was chosen as the recipient of the 20th-anniversary NephCure Kidney International Humanitarian of the Year Award. She has raised nearly $1 million for this cause over the past 12 years.
"NephCure is a global organization with many volunteers, so to be selected for this award was quite an honor," Warhaftig told the Hingham Anchor. "I feel very much appreciated by NephCure for recognizing all my efforts."
NephCure Kidney International’s mission is to accelerate research and find a cure for FSGS (focal segmental glomerulosclerosis) and Nephrotic Syndrome, and to provide education and support that will improve the lives of those affected by these kidney diseases.
Warhaftig was recognized during a virtual award ceremony as a "valued volunteer who has devoted an enormous amount of time and energy to the cause and forwarding its mission," even after her son Andrew lost his battle with FSGS in 2018 during the spring of his junior year at Hingham High School.
Andrew was diagnosed with FSGS when he was six years old, and his disease progression was rapid. "He spent about five years of his life on dialysis and had two kidney transplants before he was 14 years old," his mother said. "He has come to be fondly known in the community as 'Amazing Andrew' and was an inspiration to everyone who knew him."
Warhaftig has devoted a tremendous amount of time and energy to this cause over the past 12 years. "NephCure is the only organization funding the best and brightest researchers, educating patient families across the globe, and partnering with pharmaceutical companies to find a cure for FSGS and Nephrotic Syndrome," Warhaftig said.
Starting in 2009, she created NephCure teams to run the Falmouth Road Race to raise money for NephCure. She then decided to move the fundraising efforts closer to home and for several years helped NephCure organize a 5K Event at Wompatuck State Park.
"It was really wonderful to be able to have so many friends and students at HHS help out at the Wompatuck events," Warhaftig said. "In the past two years, NephCure has transitioned its annual event to a Boston area 'Countdown to a Cure Gala," which will hopefully return in person next September."
Team "Amazing Andrew" shows up to support NephCure year after year and to remember Andrew. "It means so much to our entire family," Warhaftig said. "My daughter, Rachel, is a senior at HHS this year, and my son Ethan is in seventh grade at Hingham Middle School, and they have been very involved in supporting NephCure over the years," too.
HHS Principal Rick Swanson, whose recorded remarks were shared at the awards ceremony, praised Warhaftig for her "courage through her son's difficult journey" -- which he said was an inspiration to him and other members of the HHS community -- and for her "persistent, positive, and continued hope during very dark times. In the face of the loss of Andrew, Elise continued to be a source of strength to her family and community."
As background, Swanson was contacted by Nephcure a few months ago and invited to participate in an interview about Elise Warhaftig. "I eagerly accepted the invitation because I've always been so impressed by Elise's courage and grace. She's a genuinely inspiring person, just as her son, Andrew, was," he told the Hingham Anchor. "Getting to know Andrew was one of the greatest blessings I've experienced in my 13 years at Hingham High School. Losing him to a rare kidney disease more than two years ago was an enormous blow to our entire community."
However, his family's determination to continue Andrew's fight "has kept his spirit alive in a very real way. I'm so grateful to Elise, to her husband, Jeremy, and to Andrew's surviving siblings, Rachel and Ethan, all of whom demonstrate the power of resilience and hope," Swanson said. "Here in Hingham, we don't have to look far to see genuine heroism. May we all draw courage and inspiration from their incredible example."
Andrew's wish was that a cure would be found for FSGS. "I have personally made it my mission to help make this wish a reality for him and others and won't stop supporting NephCure until a cure is found," Warhaftig said. "Together we will find a cure!"
It’s not too late to make a donation for this year. Anyone wishing to donate to NephCure in memory of Andrew may do so at: https://give.nephcure.org/NewEnglandChampions/amazingandrew2020
"Unfortunately, a cure for FSGS did not come soon enough for Andrew, but I hope that my efforts will help other patients and their families," Warhaftig said.
A scholarship is awarded every year to HHS seniors who embody the characteristics that Andrew valued most and who share his love for music. Any senior who is in the HHS band, orchestra, or chorus is invited to apply in January for the scholarship. Multiple students have been recipients in the past two years. Those receiving the scholarships are announced in May during Senior Awards Night.