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.
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.
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