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Reg Green Discusses the Impact of Organ Donation

Raising awareness of the importance of organ donation with his books The Gift that Heals and The Nicholas Effect since his young son’s death fifteen years ago, author Reg Green has participated in many inspirational events, including the Rose Parade with Donate Life. Read his take on his experience and his hopes.

This photo sums up the last fifteen years of my life. I’m in the center, the thorn between two roses, standing in front of a float from the 2010 Rose Parade. I’m flanked by two of the most courageous people I’ve ever met— Isabel Stenzel Byrnes on the left and her twin sister, Anabel, whose story was one of those that I told in my book, The Gift that Heals.

Born with cystic fibrosis, they endured all the miseries of that brutal affliction, spending hours every day as they grew up paddling each other’s chests to dislodge the thick mucus that was clogging their lungs. As it became progressively worse, they had to force every breath in and out and became completely dependent on oxygen canisters.

Reg Green

Author Reg Green stands with twin transplant survivors Isabel and Anabel Stenzel at the 2010 Rose Parade.

By indomitable willpower and the support of their dedicated parents every step of the way, they not only managed to get master’s degrees from Berkeley but hiked with the family and were in the local YMCA swim team. But in the end only new lungs could save them. In a dramatic race against death, eventually both of them did get transplants—and, in Ana’s case, a second transplant.

The portraits on the float are from the other side of the equation: men, women and children, whose organs—lungs, hearts, livers, kidneys, pancreas cells—saved other people for whom, like the Stenzel twins, there was no other cure. One of the faces—the one just above my head—is that of my own seven-year-old son, Nicholas, who was killed in a botched robbery while we were on a family vacation in Italy. Maggie, my wife, and I donated his organs and corneas, which went to seven very sick Italians, four of them teenagers.

Without transplants, two of them would now be blind, and most, if not all, the others dead. Instead, their lives were transformed; in just the last few weeks we have been in touch with five of them, all of whom are in good health and high spirits.

It wasn’t a difficult decision. In fact, it was probably the easiest major decision either of us has ever had to make. When Nicholas’s brain died, and all the brightly colored dreams of a young idealist died too, it was clear he didn’t need that body anymore. Yet we knew there were people out there who did desperately need what that body could provide.

At the time, of course, they were just statistics on a waiting list to us. But having met them and seen what they and their families had gone through and knowing what would have happened to them, I can’t conceive how we could have made a different decision.

Yet for eighteen people every day on the waiting list, the organs they need do not arrive in time, and they simply wither away. That’s why we have done whatever we could think of to draw attention to the shortage of donated organs, including writing my two books (the other one is The Nicholas Effect), helping make the Jamie Lee Curtis made-for-television movie Nicholas’ Gift, writing innumerable articles, giving speeches around the world, and making a series of DVDs that are shown in hospitals, schools, and community groups in every corner of the United States. For more on all this, visit our website at www.nicholasgreen.org.

The Rose Parade is in a class by itself, and we were delighted when the Donate Life float team asked us to decorate a portrait of Nicholas. Like every other surface on all the floats, everything was made of natural materials, and so we, along with our 19-year-old daughter, Eleanor—who 15 years ago was asleep next to Nicholas when he was shot—built up the picture from a photograph using seeds and beans and leaves—ground-up parsley for his green eyes and cinnamon for his freckles.

All three of us felt especially close to him during those days, and I remember experiencing a real pang of separation after we finished it, having to face the fact that it was all an illusion. Still, that float was seen by 35 million people, many of whom, by a simple decision, will have the power to save multiple families just like their own from devastation.

If you would like to find out more about registering as a donor, please go to www.donatelife.net.