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Transplant Recipient's Work at School Is Best Medicine


Double-transplant recipient Robert Katzman takes 15 medications a day, but none put more zest in his life than the children at Burbank Boulevard Elementary School in North Hollywood.

Katzman, 38, has devoted the last year to enriching the lives of students, whom he credits with saving him from a lonely, depressing death.

"I sat at home," Katzman said Thursday of the years after his 1987 simultaneous kidney/pancreas transplant. "I gave up my life almost. I was a vegetable."

Last year Katzman's family prodded him into volunteering one day a week at the school. It turned him, and the school, around.

Now he spends five days a week, six hours a day, creating extracurricular programs and other activities that teachers say have helped motivate their students to learn.

"He brought in the actual script from 'The Wonder Years,' " said sixth-grade teacher Thomasenia Ford. "The students did it as a radio play. I had several students who had problems reading the school texts. They really got interested in reading after that."

Principal Sharon Greene said Katzman's efforts have also benefited teachers whose morale has been shattered by budget and pay cuts.

"It has been so positive," Greene said. "Robert has brought to this school a quality we haven't had in a long time in the Los Angeles Unified School District."

So high is the school's regard for Katzman that school officials have nominated him for this year's Apple Award, which is bestowed on the city's volunteer of the year.

But Katzman shies away from such praise.

"I'm the background guy," he said. "The kids are the ones who keep the programs going. I'm always worried I will wake up one morning and have a rejection of the transplant. I don't want this to end."

Even Katzman's doctor has seen a change in his client.

"He used to be a difficult person before," said Dr. Sohan Dua. "He used to be in the hospital every month. It has become quite a turnaround. There's obviously more to care than just medicine and hospitals."

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