Indian girl (6) shot, parents donate organs

Dr. Deepak Gupta, Professor of Neurosurgery at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences at Delhi, who headed the team that transplanted the organs of six-year old, Rolly Prajapati, has added a comment to ‘An Illiterate Family in India Gives the Educated World a Lesson’ (please see this article on the blog on May 3, 2022.)

He says, “I hope there will be some official recognition of the extremely rare decision by her parents: organ donation rates in India are among the lowest in the world. If only the Prime Minister would honor the family for their willingness to put their acute grief on one side until after they put in motion the process that saved the lives of people they knew absolutely nothing about, it would act as a beacon to encourage many other families to follow suit. Meanwhile, every year thousands of Indians, many of them young, some of them infants, die when one donated organ could have saved them.”

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An Illiterate Family in India Gives the Educated World a Lesson

A mother and father in India, neither of whom can read or write and work wearisome hours for poverty wages, have just given the world’s educated a lesson in simple humanity. When their six-year old daughter, Rolly, was shot as she slept alongside her father, at whom the bullet was probably aimed,  Harnarayan Prajapati (39) and Poonam Devi (37) donated her organs to save other children. They had never heard of organ donation until Dr. Deepak Gupta, professor of neurosurgery at the AIIMS medical center in Delhi, who was in charge of her case, told them about it when Rolly was declared brain dead on April 29. They agreed because they did not want other families to face the bleakness that had enveloped them. Organ donation is almost non-existent in India where the grinding poverty of the great majority of families leaves little energy at the end of a day to think about anything other than the basic routines of living.

Rolly and siblings

Rolly is in the center with two of her five siblings, Karamveer on the left, Khushi on the right.

Even among the growing middle class, defined as those earning more than $25,000 in purchasing power comparable to the United States, organ donation is widely viewed as something unnatural. Even more than in other countries Indians fear that if they indicate they are willing to be donors, the doctors will not try as hard to save them when they are seriously injured. To all of them, the Prajapatis’ decision comes as a lesson that people in the most tragic situation need not turn inward in grief and despair but can transform life for multiple strangers. In rural India where rigid divisions are so traditional, the willingness to accept that the recipients can be of any caste is even more difficult. This small girl’s story should be a lesson to those who say they are in favor of organ donation but, like so many, are unwilling to go through with it when the decision is about one of their own family.

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Rolly’s parents, Hamarayan Prajapati and Poonam Devi

P.S. When I heard from Dr. Deepak Gupta about Rolly, I asked him to give this message to her mother and father. I offer it to any other family who has had to face the loss of a loved one.

To the family of little Rolly:

     I am the father of a seven-year old American boy, Nicholas Green. who was shot while we were on a family vacation in Italy and whose organs and corneas my wife, Maggie, and I donated to seven Italians, four of them teenagers. I am writing to you in hopes that I can offer a little solace for your crushing loss. For now, I expect that you can think of little else but how bleak and meaningless everything seems and how even the most routine task causes a stab in the heart because she is not with you. But in time I hope you will come to see how you have not simply transformed the lives of the recipients but how you have given inspiration to a world crying out for hope. You have given your daughter’s life a higher significance than  you could ever have foreseen. I imagine her saying: “I’m very proud of you.”

With great affection, Reg (and Maggie) Green

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The letter from the father of Nicholas Green: “My battle to allow contacts between the two sides in organ donation”

(Article by Reg Green published in ‘La Repubblica’, an Italian national newspaper. March 3, 2022)

When Dan and Shirley Mason. an American couple, met Inger Jessen, who when 55 years old had received the heart of their 18-year old daughter, Nicole, it was one of the most meaningful events of their lives. They all hugged, cried with joy and exchanged stories. They have become close friends.

The dramatic culmination of their first meeting was when the Masons heard through a stethoscope the steady beat of their daughter’s heart. “I couldn’t believe it,” Dan said later.  “Since Nikki was killed in a car accident twenty years ago, I think of her every day. She seems so far away. But here she was again.” Inger too was profoundly moved. “Since then,” she says, “I have felt a peace I haven’t known in years.”

     As the father of Nicholas Green, the seven-year old California boy who was shot in an attempted robbery on the Salerno to Reggio Calabria autostrada and whose organs and corneas my wife, Maggie, and I donated to seven very sick Italians, I share their view: the bonds we have forged with those seven have had a healing effect on all of us.

     On our side, we have been gratified to see how our son’s organs have transformed life for people who were once on the brink of death. To give just one example: Maria Pia Pedalà, the 19-year old Sicilian who received Nicholas’ liver had a baby four years after the transplant — an impossible happening beforehand. She called the baby Nicholas and in a family with a history of liver disease he is fit enough to have become a non-commissioned officer in the navy.

    On their side, the recipients can see we don’t hold it against them that they are living only because our son died — and that has freed them from the sense of guilt that many recipients carry with them for the rest their lives. Twenty-seven years after the transplants, five of the seven are still alive.

   But communication between organ donor families and their recipients is almost impossible in Italy under a law (91/99) that was passed more than twenty years ago because lawmakers feared that any contact, even if both sides want it, risks psychological damage. Even anonymous letters are forbidden!

     In the United States, however, tens of thousands of families have either met face to face or have written to each other and in the overwhelming majority of cases the happiness and health of both sides have improved. In fact every one of the 58 organ procurement organizations in the United States, that under the Department of Health look after both donors and recipients, encourages contact.

La Repubblica Facebook post - March 12 2022

The article had more than 16,000 likes on the Facebook page of the newspaper

     Of course, these contacts are planned in conjunction with the families’ medical advisers: finding each other through the Internet, as some Italian families do, is asking for trouble. Contact usually begins when one side writes anonymously to their transplant team, who scrutinize it to make sure there is no sign of risk, such as an overwrought family or one likely to make emotional demands on the other side. If the family receiving the letter does not want to write back, communication stops cold. If they want to reply, however, they do so, also anonymously, and the first family also has the option of continuing or breaking off the conversation there and then. After a while, however, both sides can reveal their identity if they wish and share their experiences as many thousands have.

     The result of all this care is that none of the morbid forecasts of things going wrong has happened on any scale. For example, I couldn’t uncover one case in America of a donor asking a recipient for money. Instead, imagine the thrill we had when a cousin of the 15-year old who received Nicholas’ heart told us that after the transplant he said to everyone he met, “I used to have a worn-out old jalopy for a heart. Now I have a Ferrari.”

     To this day in Italy when those who oppose liberalization are asked for proof of any significant numbers of things going wrong they are unable to provide them. Can things go wrong? Of course. But the thousands and thousands of medically documented cases where things went well in the US are evidence that the problems are extremely rare. I challenge opponents of change to show any statistics of problems.

     Despite all this, when I, with just one helper, Andrea Scarabelli in Rome, started a campaign in 2016 to liberalize contacts between the two sides in Italy we were so alone that we became known as Don Quixote and Sancho Panza. But we sent the evidence we collected to every national organization involved in transplantation and, after studying it, all of them — the National Transplantation Center, the National Bioethics Committee and the National Institute of Health — have come out in favor of contact when it is done under authorized medical supervision and when both sides have clearly expressed a desire for it. Dr Pierpaolo Sileri, Deputy Minister of Health, has said firmly, “La liberalizzazione dei contatti tra riceventi e donatori è un gesto di umanità e civiltà, un atto doveroso”. I hope readers of this article will support the legislation that has been introduced to allow that to happen and relieve a lot of unhappiness in families who have performed one of the most selfless acts our society knows.

(Link to the article in Italian: https://www.repubblica.it/cronaca/2022/03/03/news/la_lettera_del_papa_di_nicholas_green_la_mia_battaglia_per_far_incontrare_chi_ha_donato_gli_organi-340120452/)

Author: Reg Green.

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Their Favorite Murder

Would you believe it? There’s a podcast called “My Favorite Murder” — and it is the sixth most-listened to podcast out of the thousands available. It focuses on true crime stories and the title, of course, is a way to catch attention: it evidently succeeds because Wikipedia estimates that last year it had 25 million downloads a month!

Recently they did a 13-minute segment on the killing of Nicholas and, despite the show’s title, they dealt with it responsibly and, except for some details, accurately.

screenshot podcast nicholas

They even asked listeners who had an interesting organ donation story to tell to contact them at myfavoritemurder@gmail.com. Write to them if you have such a story. If they use it you will have a huge audience, most of whom have never thought seriously about organ donation.

Here is the link:  https://myfavoritemurder.com/318-one-spiritual-moment/. Our story begins at the 17th minute (I’d skip the chit chat that goes on until then) and ends at the 30th.

Reg Green

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Link to Jamie Lee Curtis movie available

Nicholas’ Gift, the television movie in which Jamie Lee Curtis plays the mother of seven-year old Nicholas Green, who was shot on a family vacation in Italy, can be seen online by clicking this link:  https://www.justwatch.com/us/movie/nicholas-gift.

Just Watch: Nicholas' Gift movie

The movie, based closely on the true story, traces the car chase that led to the shooting and the decision of the boy’s parents to donate his organs and corneas. It shows the anguish of waiting for a transplant, the trial of the killers and the Greens’ poignant meeting with the young heart recipient and his family.

Making of the movie

The Green family in Rome for the making of the movie, Nicholas’ Gift, starring Jamie Lee Curtis. Left to right: Martin, Reg, Gene Wexler, Maggie, Laura, Eleanor. (Martin and Laura are the twins born twenty months after Nicholas was killed.Eleanor was two years younger than Nicholas. Gene played Nicholas in the movie.)

The movie, for which Jamie Lee Curtis was nominated for an Emmy, has been seen by 100 million people worldwide. There is a small charge to view it.

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If I have a transplant, will I be able to drive? dying boy asks

When Andrea Mongiardo, an Italian boy, 15 years old but stunted by chronic illness to 4ft. 4 in,  was told only a new heart could save his life, he asked his doctor a boy’s question: after the transplant would he grow to 4ft. 9 in, the minimum height for a driver’s license?

“I can’t guarantee that,” the doctor replied, “but I am absolutely convinced that a transplant is the necessary condition to be able to do it.” That did it and the transplant went ahead, successfully.

     The story has a special interest for me because the new heart had belonged to my seven-year-old son, Nicholas, who had  just been shot in a botched robbery while we were on a family vacation in Italy.

     The doctor is Dr. Francesco Parisi, formerly director of the Thoracic Transplant Unit at Bambino Gesù hospital in Rome, who has just written an absorbing book about his career, mostly by recalling some of his most interesting patients. One of the chapters is about Andrea and Nicholas. The book is called I Have Seen People Who Have Crossed the Andes to emphasize how the most difficult problems can be overcome.

ho_visto_persone_attraversare_le_ande

Before the transplant Andrea was on the very edge of death. Born with a congenital heart disease that three operations had failed to cure, he was grossly under-nourished and was receiving infusions of blood products twice or three times a week. He also developed a serious stomach disease.

     The transplant went well, however, and in time Andrea finished school, got a job, grew to 5ft 2in — and got his driver’s license. For many years he lived productively but then, weakened by all those years of bad health and the many treatments he endured, he died in February 2017, 23 years after his transplant. The official cause of death was respiratory failure, Dr. Parisi told me. “Nicholas’ heart went on beating to the end,” he added.

For my wife, Maggie, and me, close to the Mongiardo family as we became, this was of course a very sad ending but like them we were consoled that he had died on the threshold of middle age and not as a teenager.

So far the book is available only in Italian. It is titled “Ho Visto Persone Attraversare Le Ande”.

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Italian Organ Donation Rates Rebound to Record Levels

Organ donation rates in Italy are of great interest to Maggie and me because when our seven-year old son, Nicholas, became a donor there 27 years ago, the rates were almost the lowest in Western Europe. They are now among the highest. The latest official figures, just out, show donation rates have more than made up the decline that came with COVID-19 in 2020. Last year they went up 12.1 percent, reaching a rate of 22.9 per million of the population. When Nicholas was killed it was a little over 6 per million.

organ donation report 2021 by region in Italy

Source: Italian National Transplant Center (CNT) and SITO (Italian Society for Organ Donation) annual report

Many people express surprise that donations are such a low percentage around the world (“only 22 per million?” they say) but that is because donating organs is possible for only about 1 percent of the population, mostly people who die of a blow to the head as in a road accident, a fall or violence. The new figures show that 69 percent of Italians say they would become donors if they are eligible. This is a phenomenal change and people and institutions of all kinds have played their part.

Transplants over the years - preliminary data on 2021

Source: Italian National Transplant Center and SITO report – preliminary data

Speaking only of our own campaign, they range from Pope John Paul II — who showed how deeply moved he was by Nicholas’ death and the generous-hearted response of the Italian people, by authorizing the casting of a magnificent bell with the name of Nicholas and his seven recipients on it — to ordinary people all over Italy,  some in their thirties and forties who were then just children, even people not born at the time but who have heard the story from their parents or teachers.

IMG_2755 SITO CONFERENCE, ROME 2016

Reg Green speaks at SITO conference (Rome, November 2016)

Most of the individual names will be unfamiliar to readers but they show the variety of our allies. First is Andrea Scarabelli, with whom I have worked hand-in-glove from within days of Nicholas’ death, and who I call Nicholas’ best friend. Without him ‘the Nicholas Effect’ could easily have petered out after a few years instead of being a force virtually every adult Italian still knows about.

     So let me take this opportunity to publicly thank the Ministry of Health, the National Bioethics Committee, the National Transplantation Center and the National Institute of Health, in all of which we have close contacts. And, thank you, Italian journalists for recognizing the importance of organ donation even when it was not making the headlines: your ability to see the suffering of real people behind the statistics made me feel very proud of being a journalist too. But especially I want to thank Luca Dini, former editor of Vanity Fair Italy and now editor of “F” magazine, Maria Emilia Bonaccorso, the health editor and Livia Parisi, the health reporter at ANSA, who have been the three media people most loyal to Nicholas’ memory.

IMG_2772 SITO CONFERENCE, ROME 2016

At SITO conference (Rome, November 2016)

Thanks also to those branches I have visited of Aido (the volunteer group that works with donor families and recipients) with whom I have had some of the most enthusiastic meetings of my life — and especially the heroic and tenacious Piero Gallo at Aido Giussano — whose commitment has never wavered from the moment I met him — and to three of the most beautiful women in the world (Jamie Lee Curtis, Alessia Marcuzzi and Sophia Loren) all of whom have told me personally how deeply moved they were  by Nicholas’ story. Thanks also to Professor Natale De Santo and other professors of medicine, transplant physicians and nurses, to Giusy De Rosa, a teacher who I first met at one of the 31 schools that, all over Italy from the Alps to Sicily, were named for Nicholas, to Marco Galbiati (another father who lost a beloved son and joined us by collecting fifty thousand signatures after we began a national campaign to allow donor families to meet recipients) and the thousands — yes, thousands — of other people who have worked with us in the last 27 years! With such enlightened activists is it any wonder that Italian donation rates are now among the highest in the world?

Reg Green

 

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Jamie Lee Curtis talks of “Nicholas’ Gift” on her Instagram page (January 13 2022)

Jamie Lee Curtis, who played my wife, Maggie, in an almost forgotten  television movie about organ donation, once told me she was as proud of her performance in it as she was of anything else in her career. This week on her Instagram page she said the subject was  “haunting, honoring and humbling.”

JLC Instagram January 2022 V4

The movie is Nicholas’ Gift, a true story, and in it she plays the mother of our seven-year old son, Nicholas, whose organs and corneas we donated after he was shot in an attempted robbery during a family vacation in Italy in 1994.  I don’t see how anyone could watch it and remain indifferent to organ donation.

recipients 1

The seven recipients two years after their transplant with the Greens and their three children. Left to right standing: Reg and Maggie Green; Andrea Mongiardo (heart); Francesco Mondello (cornea); Tino Motta (kidney); Anna Maria di Ceglie (kidney); Eleanor Green. Sitting: Laura Green, Maria Pia Pedala (liver), Domenica Galletta (cornea), Silvia Ciampi (pancreas cells), Martin Green. Photo included here by permission of Oggi magazine, Italy

Given that she has starred in a variety of blockbuster movies in the last forty years and amassed a string of awards — most recently the top Lifetime Achievement Award at the Venice Film Festival in September 2021 — her assessment is an extraordinary comment on a movie that is rarely-mentioned nowadays in the United States, although it has been seen by 100 million viewers worldwide.

Reg Green

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The first-grade classroom of a new school is named for Nicholas

The first-grade classroom in a new primary school for gifted children in Catania, Sicily, has been named for Nicholas. The John Dewey Institute, which emphasizes linguistics and international studies, features his story as an example of creative ties between countries. 

John Dewey Institute

The principal, Professor Giuseppe Adernò, a tireless spokesman for organ donation, says “When the organs and corneas of this little American boy went to seven Italians it changed the entire attitude of the country to organ donation.”

Catania John Dewey Institute - classroom

Four of Nicholas’ seven recipients are Sicilian: the liver recipient who had a son after the transplant whom she named Nicholas; a kidney recipient, who was only 10 when he was transplanted; and two adults who were saved from blindness.  

Professor Adernò was the principal of another school when Nicholas was killed 27 years ago. In the hallway of that school there were two clocks: one on Italian time, the other on California time, where Nicholas had lived, to remind the students every day that anyone, however small, could help others at any time.  

 

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New edition of “The Nicholas Effect”

A new low-priced edition of The Nicholas Effect, the book I wrote of how the shooting of a young boy saved thousands of lives, has just been issued.

“I can think of no book that surpasses The Nicholas Effect in opening the heart,” Bud Gardner, editor of Chicken Soup for the Writer’s Soul, said of it. The book was the basis for the Jamie Lee Curtis made-for-television movie, “Nicholas’ Gift.

Book cover

It includes chapters on how Nicholas was shot and what life is like for our family without him, the trial of his killers, the making of the movie and the extraordinary response to his death around the world. The book can be bought on all the usual online sites. For Amazon, you may click here

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