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Leonard Kleinman

Leonard Kleinman

September 5, 2023 - National Grandparents Day is celebrated each year on the first Sunday after Labor Day. It was first celebrated in 1978 when President Jimmy Carter signed a proclamation marking National Grandparents Day as a time "to honor grandparents... and to help children become aware of the strength, information and guidance they can offer." On September 10th, National Grandparents Day 2023, a young man in Texas will likely pause to remember his grandfather who passed away in October 2022 at the age of 89 leaving a lasting legacy.

Dr. Leonard Paul Kleinman was born on July 25, 1933, in the middle of America's Great Depression. His childhood was spent in New York City and then Los Angeles as his family navigated the many challenges of those difficult years. He was fortunate that his parents instilled in him the necessity of pursuing higher education to ensure a financially strong pathway through times of future economic recessions.

Len graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) in 1955. He completed a masters degree in the Hughes Masters Program at UCLA in 1956, which required working 26 hours each week for Hughes Aircraft; this was the catalyst for his interest in solid state physics. In September 1956, he continued his studies at the University of California, Berkley. In January 1960, Len received his PhD and was offered a position at the Hughes Research Lab with an annual salary of $13,100. However, Dr. Kleinman received an unexpected phone call offering him a post-doc position at the University of Chicago for $6,500 per year. Len often shared that his father never understood why he turned down a $13,100 job for one that paid half that amount.

Len and his wife, Faye, relocated to Chicago but only stayed 16 months, when in August 1967, the University of Texas at Austin made him an offer he could not refuse. He and Faye had adopted their daughter, Julie, in 1966, and adopted their son, Paul, in 1969. The Kleinmans raised their children in Austin and Dr. Kleinman made an indelible mark on UT's Department of Physics through his teaching and his research. Paul remembers the family's early years in Austin, "Dad was most definitely a kid of the Great Depression. We were raised in a middle-class neighborhood and always had what we needed, but not more than that. I remember when the dishwasher broke, he told us to wash the dishes in the sink."

It was not until Paul faced a life-or-death situation with his newborn son when he fully realized firsthand how his frugal upbringing had allowed Dr. Kleinman to save and invest a significant amount of his earnings.

Paul's son and Dr. Kleinman's grandson, Weylin, was born in July 2000. Prenatal testing had shown possible signs of trouble, but it was not until his birth when he was diagnosed with a very rare condition called Fetus in fetu that occurs when a mass of tissue resembling a fetus forms inside the body of its twin. At three days old, a surgery was performed to remove the twin from Weylin's tiny body, which unexpectedly caused Weylin to lose function in his small bowel. And due to a side effect of having no functional small bowel, the baby's lipid production was interrupted causing his liver to fail. Throughout the chaotic months following his birth, Weylin was listed at several transplant centers across the country for a rare transplant that would hopefully save his life.

When Weylin was three months old, Paul remembers a transplant social worker telling the family about the Children's Organ Transplant Association (COTA). "We were young and at the time, there were only four medical centers in the country that performed this particular transplant on infants. We had no idea what our insurance was going to cover or where the transplant would eventually happen. Fundraising seemed necessary at that point; however, we had no idea how to do it... but COTA did."

In 2000, the Kleinmans joined the COTA Family, and Weylin became a COTA Kid. Austin-area neighbors and friends relied on COTA's guidance to plan fundraisers for transplant-related expenses. A 'matching gift' was made available with the minor league affiliate of the Astros baseball team, and several fundraisers for COTA in honor of Weylin were held at local ballparks. A successful 'Wailin' for Weylin' Concert COTA Fundraiser was held in Austin, which continued to give the family hope that Weylin would survive, and they would not be financially devastated.

The family's first transplant-related financial hurdle came when they received 'the call' in early June 2001 that organs were available for Weylin. The challenge? The call (via the pager Paul carried at all times) came from UPMC Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh, nearly 1,500 miles from the family's home in Austin... and the family was given a very short window of time to travel from Texas to the East Coast.

The family's only choice was a private jet that came with a $10,000 price tag. Paul instantly knew this would be a transplant-related expense for which COTA funds could be used, but they were required to pay the money immediately. It was Dr. Kleinman's first real experience with COTA. Paul explained that if his father paid the $10,000 expense for the flight, COTA would reimburse this transplant-related expense. Dr. Kleinman readily agreed. Paul, Weylin and Weylin's mother, Kristi, boarded the private jet after midnight and by 8:00 am, Weylin was being rolled into Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh. On June 8, 2001, Weylin received his liver and small bowel transplant... and a second chance at life.

Today, Weylin is in his early 20s, and Paul says the transplant has been a success. For the most part, Weylin has been able to lead a normal life and is now fully stepping into adulthood. For the two decades since his transplant, Paul and Weylin made numerous trips to Pittsburgh for checkups and tests, but eventually found a specialist in Austin who took over his care. Paul said, "Weylin's transplant journey is truly remarkable. Weylin never really got sick after his transplant. Ever. Amazingly, he never got COVID-19. In fact, most people today

do not even know he takes immunosuppressants as a result of a relatively rare transplant surgery he underwent before his first birthday."

Dr. Kleinman retired from the University of Texas' Physics Department in 2014. He was gifted many years being able to enjoy his grandchildren. Paul describes a very deep love his dad had for Weylin -- somewhat related to how his grandson had beat the post-transplant odds. "Once we moved Dad to a nursing home, Weylin visited him even more frequently. They would sit and talk for long periods of time. In the end, it was apparent my dad cared deeply for his family, was always driven to do what was right and was determined to help organizations that cared for others once he was gone."

Paul describes his father as someone who never lived extravagantly, even though he had the financial means to do so. His parents were always scrimping and saving when they could. Dr. Kleinman's frugality was quite apparent when Paul finally purchased new dress pants for him because he had been wearing the same three pairs for years. Paul smiles when he remembers the shoes Dr. Kleinman wore every day until his passing... shoes he had purchased in his 30s. "Dad was frugal and as long as I knew him that never changed," Paul said.

Toward the end of his life, Dr. Kleinman had numerous conversations with Paul about his estate and how he hoped the investments of his lifetime would be used to make life better for others. During one of their discussions, Paul learned Dr. Kleinman had 10 charities he chose to include in his giving plan. When Paul saw COTA on the list his dad created, he smiled.

"Dad never forgot how COTA stood by its commitment to help families during very challenging times," Paul said. "For us specifically, Dad never forgot the $10,000 jet payment that had to be made before we could fly to Pittsburgh and save our baby's life. Dad saw COTA in action and that always mattered to him. COTA's mission held a special place in Dad's heart."

So much so that when Dr. Kleinman finalized his estate plan in the final years of his life, he increased his gift to COTA from 5% of his estate portfolio to 20%. Dr. Leonard Paul Kleinman, who built his fortune as a physicist focused on solid state theory, bequeathed COTA the organization's largest gift to date. While there are several charities who have benefited from Dr. Kleinman's generosity, Paul says the gift to COTA truly touches his heart.

Today, Weylin is chasing his dreams like other 20-year-olds. All thanks to a family who chose to donate their baby's organs two decades ago and a grandfather who made sure transplant-related expenses would not be a stressor for him... or others for many years to come.