“Nicholas has grown and lives in me”
The touching meeting between the father of Nicholas Green, the child killed along the Salerno-Reggio Calabria highway in 1994, and the woman who received the liver of the child. “At night, when I lift my eyes to the sky and see the brightest star, I know he is there. He is my guardian angel.”
(Visto magazine – February 19, 2016)
“The day Nicholas died, October 1st 1994, Maria Pia was only 19 years old and she was dying. Only a transplant could save her. Looking at her now, a vigorous mother of two lovely children and wife to a loving husband, tears come to my eyes thinking that, if my wife Maggie and I had made a different decision that day, nothing of this would be possible. If we hadn’t helped her and the others, I know we would never have forgiven ourselves”. Twentyone years have passed since Maria Pia Pedalà, in her final hepatic coma in a hospital bed, was saved at the very last moment by a liver transplant: the donor of the organ and of a new life was an American child, Nicholas Green, only seven years old, who was vacationing with his family in Italy and was declared brain dead after having been shot on September 29 1994 by two robbers along Salerno-Reggio Calabria Highway .
Since then, Maria Pia Pedalà has kept in touch from time to time with Nicholas’ parents whose deed of love gave a new life to her and to other three teenagers and an adult, and also sight to two more people thanks to the donation of the kidneys, liver, heart, corneas and pancreas cells. Since then, Nicholas’ father comes to Italy every year – where more than 100 places including streets, schools, parks, squares have been named for the little Green child. The most recent visit took place on February 3rd, on occasion of a conference on organ donation organized in Palermo at the Mediterranean Institute for Transplants and Special Treatments (ISMETT). And right here in Palermo, Green met Maria Pia Pedalà again. Over these years she married and had two children, Alessia, 15 years old, and Nicholas, 17, who got his name to honor her mother’s donor.
“Every meeting with the Greens is a unique emotion for me: I feel a shiver running down my back” Maria Pia explains. “His hug is something you cannot explain, like that of a father to a son: there is something indissoluble that ties me to him because Nicholas lives in me.
Q: Maria Pia, many years passed from the transplant that saved your life. What do you remember of those days?
A: I was 19 and during those last two months I had been suffering stomach ache and nausea – I entered and exited emergency rooms at hospitals not knowing the cause, until one day the pains were so strong that I was urgently hospitalized, suffering high temperature and jaundice. The day after I fell into a coma: a silent and sudden hepatitis was making me die. I was moved to Rome in an Air Force plane and I was in very serious condition. A few days later the doctors told my relatives that an organ was available. My state was so terrible that my relatives were reluctant, fearing to worsen my ordeal. But the doctors insisted that I had to undergo surgery: not only the organ worked perfectly, but after 21 years I am still here.”
Q: when did you discover that your donor was a child only seven years old?
R: I remained in the intensive care unit for a couple of weeks and then I was moved to the ward where they gave me a newspaper: it talked of an angel who had come from a far place and saved seven people. I burst into tears, I felt guilty thinking that a child had died and I was alive instead. It is a feeling that I had very often, until the day that together with the other six recipients I had the opportunity to meet those wonderful parents: Maggie made me understand that their choice had been a choice of love, that the donation had helped them to contain their sorrow. All over these years we have always kept in touch, meeting each other when possible, otherwise through emails.”
Q: You are a mum now: how did you explain your story to your children?
A: “Since October 2nd 1994 Nicholas is part of me, therefore there was no need to explain anything.
They heard me talking of Nicholas since they were born, also because I have a photo of him in my house, the last one before he was killed, that Reginald and Maggie gave me. Besides the photo I placed a toy soldier with which Nicholas played: during the first meeting with all the recipients, Reginald gave one of them to each recipient, and since then I have been looking after it with love. To me Nicholas is my angel: when at night I lift my eyes to the sky and see the brightest star, I think ‘there he is’. Nicholas has grown with me, and it is as if I have two ages: 40 years, my birth age and then 28, the age he will be today.”
Q: Have you ever been in California, where Nicholas is buried?
A: “Yes, and it was an incredible emotion. I went there with my family on the 10th anniversary since Nicholas had died, in 2004, and I took there a bell made in my hometown, San Fratello. Nicholas was buried in a catholic church in Bodega Bay, a small village 60 miles north of San Francisco where the Greens lived before moving to Los Angeles. Nicholas loved the sound of bells and that’s why his parents built a monument, The Children’s Bell Tower, made with 140 bells sent by families from many parts of the world, mostly from Italy; the central bell was blessed by Pope John Paul II.
Q: How is your life after the transplant?
A: I live a very regular life, I don’t smoke, don’t drink, I am careful about what I eat, and I have never had problems. For many years I have taken immunosuppressant medicines, as the procedure requires, but I have been pregnant two times and everything went well. On the other hand my transplant took place on October 2nd, the day dedicated to the guardian angels and I think I have some very special guardian angels: I lost my mother when I was 12, and I lost a brother when I was a child. I suffered loneliness, but a year after the transplant I married my husband Salvatore and I welcome every day of my life as a gift”.
Q: Also thanks to Nicholas and the decision of the Greens, organ donations in Italy started to grow. Until then our Country was at the very bottom in Europe: how is the situation in your region now?
A: “In Sicily there is the ISMETT, a center of excellence as for transplants, and a culture of donation is more and more widespread. As for me, everytime I can, I go to schools to tell my story to the children to let them know what organ donation is. And everytime, they always ask me about Nicholas: his memory is alive now as it was twenty years ago and I am more than certain that people will keep talking of this angel for a long time.”
Article published on Visto magazine (Italy), February 19, 2016.