Monthly Archives: May 2016

Bike Race

On organ donation day in Italy (May 29), a cycling team led by Francesco Avanzini, a 62 year-old man who had a kidney transplant 29 years ago, cycled the very tough 50 kilometers, along the glorious coast from Sestri Levante to Genoa. It was like many other activities for organ donation that day but for me it had not one, not two, but three special features. First, I have become friends with Francesco and have seen a degree of moral courage in him that matches the physical courage he needed to stay alive. Second, the race went close to the very first place I stayed in Italy 65 (!) years ago when I had saved enough money to go abroad for the first time. And third could I, as a young man, have ever imagined on that first visit that a race would one day pass this way that would end at a bridge named for my own son?

genoa bridge sign

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Filed under Events, In the news, Italia, Italy, Nicholas' story, Places named for Nicholas

“I’m Going to Get a New Heart from the Hospital,” Six-Year Old Tells His Family

A week after his sixth birthday Aiden Hansen was on a walk with his father, Jesse, mother, Shifra,  and little sister, Lilah, near his home in Santa Rosa, California, when a call came in telling them his new heart had arrived at Stanford Hospital and they had to leave immediately. They had been waiting for a year and a half. 

His great grandfather, Arthur Hansen, wrote to Maggie and me about it. With great care and for no pay, Arthur looks after the peaceful country graveyard in nearby Bodega where our seven-year old Nicholas is buried. This gentle, warm-hearted man has always seemed to share our grief and it was easy to see how much this moment meant to him.

                “Aiden asked his dad if he could phone Mimi, his grandmother, our daughter,” Arthur wrote. “Jesse dialed the number and gave Aiden the phone. When she answered the words tumbled out of him. ‘Mimi, my heart came in and I’m going down to get it.’ He was so excited even knowing the challenges of surgery, having had three open-heart operations already.”

                That night, as he waited to go into the operating room, he asked Mimi how late it was. “It’s 1:30,” she told him. “That’s the latest I’ve ever stayed up,” he said. His mother was nursing Lilah and couldn’t be there. “Is there anything you want to tell mommy?” Jesse asked as he took a video. “I love you,” he replied.

Aiden - Family photo

Three days later Aiden was dead, the operation being too much for his weakened little body to withstand.

Death has a necessary purpose, we know, replacing the old and infirm with the young and fresh. But death, in its clumsy way, all too often gathers up spring flowers also. And sometimes those flowers are the most beautiful of all.

“I have been in tears writing this letter to you,” Arthur wrote. And so was I.

Aiden’s parents have paid a loving tribute to him at

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A Boy Joins His Heroes

A garden with one of the loveliest views in Greece has been dedicated to Nicholas by the Hellenic College of Nephrology. It stands dramatically on the edge of a soaring hill overlooking the city and bay of Volos, the port from which the Argonauts set sail to find the golden fleece.

Greece - Nicholas Green Park

It is a perfect setting for a little boy who thrilled to the classical myths. (When I read him the story of the blinded Polyphemus running his hands in a rage through the woolly coating of his sheep trying to find Ulysses and his men who were clinging underneath, I thought he would burst.)
The garden joins the 112 schools, squares, streets, parks – and one bridge – named for him in Italy. The college president, Dr. Georgios Efstratiadis and his board see the garden as a way to remind all who go there of the tens of thousands of kidney patients whose lives were saved by a transplant.

            I am taking this opportunity to thank everyone else involved, including the friendly management and staff of the Xenia Palace hotel in Portaria, on whose grounds the garden stands, and to Dr. Athanasios Diamandopoulos, a former president of the college and Professor Natale De Santo, professor emeritus at Second University of Naples, who together spearheaded this project.

The garden adds another timeless element to Nicholas’ story, who died in a hospital overlooking the Straits of Messina, where thousands of years ago Ulysses, again in the kind of fearful danger that puts young boys on the edge of their seats, navigated his ship through the narrow channel between Scylla, the monstrous rock and Charybdis, the monstrous whirlpool.

Here is a link to a beautiful video made by Giusy De Rosa, a schoolteacher in Caserta, Italy, of cities with “Nicholas’ places.


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Filed under Events, Greece, Places named for Nicholas