Reg Green, The Gift That Heals




I’m Reg Green. I’ve written a book called The Gift that Heals. Myseven year old son was shot in a botched robbery while we were on vacation in Italy. We donated his organs there to seven Italians, all of whom were in a very bad way. And 15 years later, all seven of those people are alive and well. There was a tremendous upsurge of emotion when this happened, the whole of Italy seemed to want to put its arms around us. It was arranged that we would meet six of the seven just three months later, and there they were, some smiling, some crying, some ebullient some shy. This whole army of people was there. And I wondered, did one little body do all of this; and, yes, it did. It transformed the lives of all of those people. And there was one, a 19 year old girl at the time, who was dying that very night of liver failure. Her mother had died of the same thing, and so had her brother. And, the family had gathered at the hospital to say good-bye. And, when she woke up, she had a new liver and bounced back to health, got married, and had a baby, a little boy, who they’ve called Nicholas.

My wife and I have decided to try to tell the story in as many different ways as we possibly could so that instead of people smiling sadly, maybe when they remembered this story that they would in fact make a difference, and that in fact has happened. I contacted dozens of different hospitals and organ procurement organizations to try to ask them which was the most memorable story that you’ve ever come across in transplantation. They supplied these. There’s no shortage of them. I chose the 42 that I thought were the most poignant and the most inspiring, and those are the 42 that are in the book.

One of the stories in the book is about a GI who was blinded during World War II. He had five children, none of whom he had ever seen. And then after 48 years, he heard on television that a transplanted cornea could cure blindness, and he inquired, and finally met a doctor who said, yes, I do those; and he got a cornea. And now, in his mid-80’s, he can drive a car and bowl, and I met him just a few weeks ago, and he’s a wonderfully cheerful guy. He says now he has everything he wanted in the world. He went through those 48 years uncomplainingly everybody tells me, and he said the only thing he regretted was he had never been able to see his children and now he can.

People aren’t against organ donation. Very, very, few people are. All of the major religions, for example, are strongly in favor of it. But what happens is brain death is normally sudden death. The family gets to the hospital to find that someone they love who was in perfect health just a few hours before is now dead or dying. The shock is just too much. When they’re asked would they donate, many of them say no and regret it for the rest of their lives. 18 people on the waiting list die every day because of the shortage of organs. A nurse told me she was on duty one night and a small boy was brought in dying from a road accident. When the time came, she’d asked the parents if they would donate, and they refused, and refused angrily at what they saw was this crass intrusion on their sacred moments. She said she understood the bottom had fallen out of the world for them but all she could think of was in that same hospital was another little boy who was also dying that night, and did die, because the heart that could have saved him never arrived. I often think of that family and how close they came to being saved and how in all probability they would have been saved if that other family had only had the discussion about organ donation while death was just a distant concept.

From death, in these cases, life has come in abundance. And now having met all of those seven people and having seen what they’ve gone through, and knowing what would have happened to them, it’s inconceivable to me that we could have made any other decision.