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Reader's Digest Article

Gift of Life

The Gift that Heals

 
The Nicholas Green Foundation

A seven year-old boy from California, Nicholas Green, was killed by highway robbers in 1994 while vacationing in Italy with his family. His parents agreed to donate his organs and corneas, which went to seven Italians waiting for transplants. Reg and Maggie Green spoke openly to the media, with no bitterness, about their loss and decision. The world took the story--and the Greens--to its heart. Organ donations in Italy have quadrupled since Nicholas was killed so that thousands of people are alive who would have died.

The world's response to the Green's personal tragedy is called "the Nicholas effect." No matter their nationality or calling, people respond from the heart--presidents, movie stars, schoolchildren, grandmothers, Boy scouts, soccer players, surgeons, and organ recipients. Organ donor cards are signed. Poems are written, pictures painted, parks dedicated, scholarships established, medals given, children hugged.

New Edition of Reg Green’s Highly-Acclaimed Book, “The Nicholas Effect.”

A new edition of “The Nicholas Effect,” by Reg Green -- the story of Nicholas’ death and its astonishing results-- has just been brought out by AuthorHouse, the world’s largest self-publishing company, and includes an afterword to bring the story up to date.

The new edition marks the 15th anniversary of the shooting. “I can think of no book that surpasses ‘The Nicholas Effect’ in opening the heart and changing attitudes for the common good,” Bud Gardner, editor of Chicken Soup for the Writer’s Soul, wrote when it was first published.

It tells the horrifying story of the shooting, as four-year-old Eleanor lay asleep next to Nicholas, the failed efforts to save him and the emotion that engulfed Italy when the decision to donate his organs and corneas became known. The President and Prime Minister of Italy asked to see the Greens privately and talked to them like friends of the family instead of leaders of a nation.

The book shows them going home to their beautiful village of Bodega Bay on the Northern California coast and, in a wrenching ceremony, burying Nicholas in a simple country churchyard, then picking up the threads in a house that suddenly seemed empty.

The media interest was intense from the beginning, as the book relates, with virtually every major daily paper in the world carrying the story and the major television shows, including Oprah, Barbara Walters, Katie Couric and Tom Brokaw, interviewing the family.

The book goes on location for the making of “Nicholas’ Gift,” a CBS movie of the week, for which Jamie Lee Curtis was nominated for an Emmy. It details the arrest of the two suspects and the long-drawn-out murder trial. It describes how Pope John Paul II had a bell made in the papal foundry and sent to the memorial tower that was built in Bodega Bay.

No other country has come remotely close to the rate of increase in organ donation shown by Italy. “A change of that magnitude must have multiple causes, including dedicated volunteers and health care personnel all over Italy,” says Green. “But it is clear that Nicholas’ story was the catalyst that changed the thinking of an entire nation.”

More broadly, the story sharply increased awareness of the tens of thousands of deaths caused around the world every year by the shortage of donated organs. As the book puts it “it sent an electric shock through the human spirit.”

“The Nicholas Effect,” originally published by O’Reilly and Associates, Sebastopol, California, has been out of print for several years. It can now be ordered at www.authorhouse.com for $9.90 plus shipping and handling. Discounts apply for quantity orders and for non-profit organizations. For details about these orders please call 888 280 7715. It is also available through online bookstores, including Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Borders. For those orders purchasers should specify the 15th anniversary edition.

Read a chapter from The Nicholas Effect

“The Gift that Heals” : 42 Transplant Stories

The Gift that Heals, Reg Green’s second book, tells the stories of 42 families at every stage of the transplantation process. Some are recipients, among them, a GI blinded in World War II who fathered five children, none of whom he had ever seen, whose sight was restored after 48 years by a donated cornea; a man who was so short of breath that he couldn’t walk and talk at the same time but, after a transplant, ran a marathon alongside the father of the girl whose lungs saved his life; and a police officer, shot at close range, whose wounds were so large that his rescuers had to put their fists in them to slow the flow of blood.

Others are donor families who, though numb with pain, put their grief on one side to save the lives of complete strangers or living donors, people who undergo an otherwise entirely unnecessary operation to donate a kidney to someone they have never met, because "they need it more than I do." Still others are on the waiting list, like the woman in the prime of life terrified that unless a donated kidney comes soon her son will be left without a mother. Professionals also tell their stories, such as the transplant coordinators, who have to ask bereaved families if they will give something more at the worst moments of their lives, and the pilot of the aircraft racing to deliver organs to dying patients.

"The sobering fact is that any one of us could need a new organ or tissue to save our lives -- and virtually every one of us could be a donor," Green writes. "The results of transplantation are astounding. However many times it happens, an inert organ, that has been taken from someone already dead, and springs suddenly into life in another dying body, still seems to most of us to have more in common with science fiction than regular medicine."

Results differ for different organs, he adds, but about 90 percent of patients who have had a heart transplant are alive after one year, 75 percent after five years and 55 percent after ten years. "Given that all these people were terminally ill, that many were close to death at the time of their operation and that, over the years, some proportion of them will die from unrelated causes, the distance transplantation has come speaks for itself."

Every month, however, the waiting list grows. "These people live perpetually on the edge, always aware of a winner-takes-all race between a wasting disease and a cure over which they have no control."

A donation produces on average three or four organs, saving three or four families from devastation, in addition to tissue that can help up to 50 people, Green points out. "With that much on the line, I often wonder what possible debate there can be about what is the right thing to do."

Read a few chapters from The Gift that Heals

The Gift that Heals: Stories of hope, renewal and transformation through organ and tissue donation, which is published jointly by the Nicholas Green Foundation and United Network for Organ Sharing, can be ordered here or through major booksellers.

The Nicholas Green Foundation, set up by the Green family, is a non-profit organization dedicated to furthering the cause of organ and tissue donation around the world. It does this by spreading information to increase awareness of the shortage of donors everywhere. It can also support a broad range of children's causes. It produces videos and helps organize special events.


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