Category Archives: Book: 87 and Still Wandering About

Children, Once Too Ill to Walk Across a Room, Take to the Ski Slopes

High in the Swiss Alps, in the little town of Anzere, 34 children from around the world, aged 6 to 17, were preparing to ski down a 45 degree slope in a revered competition that at one time none of them could have dreamed of being in.

It was a perfect day for the climax of the World Winter Transplant Games: the Nicholas Cup.

The weather was calm and clear, the sun dazzling on the pure white snow. The course was treacherous, however, hard ice in places, difficult to dig in the edges of the skis to cut the angles round the gates and more difficult than for the usual run of skiers because, a week earlier, none of these children had ever been on skis. Until then, some – such as those from Tunisia, Hong Kong and Israel – had never seen snow. “I falled over a few times at first,” one small face said proudly. “But I’m alright now.”

Nicholas Cup, Anzere, March 2012

Day 1: First hesitant steps.

But the real challenge was of an order of magnitude greater than all that. All of  them had once been so ill that their only cure was an organ transplant: a new heart or liver, kidneys or lungs to replace the ones that were dying inside them.

Some had been desperately sick at birth – yellow or blue or a lurid shade of green. One had kidneys the size of peas. A third had to be fed through a tube and, says his mother, “for the first two years he never laughed.” Some could not walk across a room without stopping for breath. Others had lived normal lives, until felled by a virus that at first seemed no more severe than a headache. The first that one father knew of a problem was a scream in the night as one of his daughters heard her younger sister collapse on the floor and then kept her alive for forty minutes as the ambulance crew talked him through the CPR procedure.

For many of these children any form of exercise, let alone a competition mixing risk with athletic agility, was physically impossible. On top of that the years of  dependence could have eaten away fatally at their self-confidence. Yet, on the day of the race, one by one the little figures appeared at the starting gate, high on the mountainside. Some came down with what the commentator charitably called “a racing snowplow” style and one or two held on to the instructors. But most tackled the course with assurance and a few with insouciance.

March 8-9 Nicholas Cup 2012

Day 7: “What’s the problem?”

The triumph, however, was collective: these are not sickly lives prolonged by an experimental medical procedure but children who, if anything, perform better than other kids because they exercise and eat more healthily and, having learned at close quarters how precious life is, are determined to make the most of it.

The competition was started by a liver recipient, Liz Schick, a British-born mother of two living in Switzerland who, like so many recipients, wanted to say ‘thank you’ to the world and has done it in an unforgettable way. As one 15-year old girl, who had a transplant when she was 2, and has been shunted between homes to wherever the appropriate medical treatment could be obtained, said afterward to her mother, “This was the best thing I ever did.”

From Reg Green’s book “87 And Still Wandering About.” 2016.

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Organ Donation Leaps Over the World’s Biggest Barrier

I have just spent a week in the company of a man whose experiences throw a fresh light on the Israeli-Palestine conflict. He is Ismael Khatib, the 46-year-old father of Ahmed, a 10- year old boy who was shot six years ago, in the tense West bank city of Jenin, by an Israeli soldier who, on a day of rioting, saw him among a group of other boys holding what looked like an automatic rifle. It turned out to be a plastic model.

Ahmed was taken to the Rambam hospital in Haifi where he was declared brain dead. The doctors then did what their counterparts in hospitals all over the world now do routinely. They asked Ismael and his wife, Abla, if they would donate their son’s organs to whoever was at the top of the waiting list, which is compiled regardless of race or religion. The Khatibs consulted their religious leaders — who signaled their agreement – and their donation leapt what is probably the most bitterly-divisive barrier in the world, Ahmed’s organs going to six Israelis, all of them small children, four of them Jews. I met Ismael when we were together on a tour of Eastern Canada which included talks with Muslim, Jewish and Christian communities. It was arranged by George Marcello of Toronto, who has had two liver transplants and has walked across Canada carrying a torch – subsequently blessed by Pope John Paul II — to tell everyone who will listen that tens of thousands of people around the world die every year because of the shortage of donated organs. George, lion-hearted in determination and achievement, is one of those remarkable recipients who cannot rest until they have paid back everything they can think of to a world that has shown them such unexpected selflessness.

In the hate-filled atmosphere of the Palestinian question, where every action is weighed by the committed on both sides to see what propaganda can be wrested from it, the implications of saying ‘yes’ to organ donation are profoundly ambivalent. Some Palestinians are embittered about Ahmed’s organs going to Jews. Many others are using the donation quite cynically as a way of claiming a moral ascendancy over their enemies and advancing their cause in its wake. Given the intensity of the conflict, everyone involved can be presumed to have mixed emotions.

But what is perfectly clear is that to take the organs of a dead person, put them in the bodies of several others who are dying and out of that produce a crop of healthy lives is a triumph for humanity.

The Torch of Life

Yael Gladstone, seen here at Niagara Falls, is the sister of Yoni Jesner, a Jewish pre-medical student from Glasgow who was killed when a Palestinian suicide bomber blew up the bus he was traveling on when visiting Tel Aviv. Next to her is Khaled Khatib from the Palestinian town of Jenin, whose ten-year old brother, Ahmed, was shot by an Israeli soldier who thought the plastic replica of an assault gun he was holding was real. Both families donated their son’s organs. One of Yoni’s kidneys went to a seven-year old  Palestinian girl. Six of Ahmed’s organs went to young Israeli children, four of them Jews. Yael and Khaled are holding the Torch of Life that George Marcello, a Canadian who has had two liver transplants, has single-handedly made an international symbol of the power of organ donation to bridge even the world’s most bitter divisions. He has walked across Canada carrying it, showing it in hundreds of towns and villages, and took it to Rome, where Pope John Paul II blessed it.


We can hope too that transplantation, with its ability to scrupulously avoid discrimination, will also be a stepping stone in bringing the whole world a little closer together. Since meeting Ismael I often think of Yoni Jesner, a 19-year-old Scottish Jew, who was killed by a suicide bomber in Tel Aviv in 2002 and one of whose kidneys went to a seven-year-old Palestinian girl.

The closing event on our tour added one more dimension, a talk to the  governing council of an aboriginal community, the kind of society that from time immemorial has believed that tampering with the body is taboo. Now, it turns out, almost all of them have signed donor cards. For them also a medical miracle has modified the beliefs of all those accumulated generations and life has trumped death.

(From “87 And Still Wandering About” )

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Blind for 48 Years, He Can See Again

On the day after Christmas 1944, in a corner of what became one of the most fiercely fought battles of World War II, a German mine blew up in Sergeant Harold Urick’s face. It left him totally blind and he stayed that way for 48 years.

            Harold’s unit, the 303rd Engineers, had just crossed the redoubtable German defensive barrier, the Siegfried Line, when they were ordered to dig up and defuse mines.

            He remembers every detail. “It was a bitterly cold day and the ground was frozen hard. There was a man on each side of me as we moved forward. I saw the mine – it was one of the small ones they used, just about a quarter pound —  and began digging it up very carefully with my bayonet. Suddenly I slipped on the icy ground.  There was an explosion and everything went dark. I put my hands on my face. ‘My God, I thought, what am I going to do now?’

            “Most of all in those early days, I worried about Jean. I was 21 and we’d been married just over a year. I thought of it over and over. Instead of the life we’d dreamed of when the war was over, I was going to be a burden to her all her life.”

            He was flown to a military hospital in Valley Forge and then back home to Cleveland. One eye was so badly damaged that it to be taken out and a prosthetic one put in its place. With the other he could see just a patch of light.

            He spent two years in a therapy school and then, with the dogged courage that has defined his life, started a physical therapy business of his own. “But people weren’t as affluent then and it didn’t take,” he says. He worked for several years at the Cleveland Clinic and then for another 15 at a snack bar managed by the Cleveland Sight Center.

            In the meantime, he and Jean had five children and seven grandchildren, none of whom he had ever seen. The family was central to his life. He went to almost every high school and college football game his son, Jeff, played in. “My wife would tell me what was going on. I just wanted to be there.”

            But his sight didn’t improve. “I went to three or four ophthalmologists over the years but all of them said they couldn’t do anything for me. Then one day in 1992 I was listening to a television program and I heard a doctor talking about transplanting corneas. I didn’t know what to think but I went back to the eye doctors. They weren’t encouraging until one of them said, ‘I know a doctor who does these. I think you should go to him.’

            “That’s how I met Dr. Philip Shands at Kaiser Permanente. ‘Yes,’ he told me, ‘I do these. Do you want to try?’ ‘You bet,’ I said. ‘What do I have to lose?’”

            Shands had then been in practice for only a year or two and was unsure himself about how much he could help. “The prosthetic eye we could do nothing about, of course. But when I examined the other one, I could see a small bit of the iris which, when we shone a light on it, constricted a little. Then, using ultrasound and other tests, it appeared as though the retina and other structures inside the eye were intact.”

             With this encouragement, Harold was put on the waiting list and told it would probably take three or four months before they had a cornea for him. “You might think I’d be on pins and needles all that time but I wasn’t. Most of the time I didn’t think about it, probably because he exuded so much confidence,” he recalls.

            Just before Thanksgiving, he was called in and, with great care, Shands removed the badly damaged cornea and other scarred tissue, implanted an artificial lens to focus the light and sewed in the donated cornea. In about an hour it was all over, Harold remembers. “‘Are you done?’ I asked him. ‘Yep,’ he said ‘but you’ll have to wait until tomorrow morning when we remove the bandages.’

            “The next day, when he began to take them off, I was lying face down on the bed and the first thing I saw were his shoes – the first things I’d seen in 48 years – then his pants. I looked up and saw he was wearing glasses. It was still a bit fuzzy, but they’d warned me it would take a while.

            “Then I looked down the bed and there was Jean, looking as pretty as she did when I first met her. Then I looked at Yvonne, my oldest daughter. It was the first time I’d ever seen her face. And she was beautiful, too.”

            He had some shocks too, such as how big airplanes had become and how fast cars went. In a few months his sight had improved so that he could pass the driver’s test and read just about anything he wanted. “Since then we’ve only had to fine-tune the prescriptions for his glasses, just like any normal aging person,” Shands says. “With them on he has 20/25 vision. Like all corneal recipients, he takes small amounts of immune-suppressants but has never had a period of rejection.”

            The other patients Shands treats have much less dramatic stories. “This was a once-in-a-career case,” he says. “But vision is the faculty people fear losing most and, with success rates of over 90 percent for those who are legally blind, cornea transplants reopen a world they thought they had lost forever.”

            All his life Harold has treasured the little things. Now it’s being able to walk through a restaurant to find a table or waving at friends across the street. He can still see with only one eye but goes to baseball games regularly and doesn’t need a running commentary. And at 86, he still bowls and plays golf.

            “But best of all is being able to see the whole family,” he says. “That was the hardest thing all those years. Now I have everything I want.”

 From “The Gift that Heals,” by Reg Green, published by AuthorHouse, 2007, (

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Child Killed at Random Gives Sight to Others

Roxanna Green is the mother of Christina-Taylor Green, the 9-year-old girl who was killed when a gunman fired into the crowd at an outdoor meeting for Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson in 2011. She remembers, as in a nightmare, her daughter covered with a sheet and she, beside her, kissing her face and stroking her feet, willing her to live.

But, even as she and her husband, John, grappled with the enormity of their loss, they found the strength to donate her corneas, restoring the sight of two people, for whom there was no other cure. The child, born on one day of indiscriminate killing, September 11, 2001 – ‘9/11’ – and dying on another, gave the nation a reason to believe that, even in the most heart-wrenching circumstances, selflessness can overcome senselessness.

Christina Taylor Green with Roxanna

Shot at random: Christina-Taylor Green with her mother, Roxanna.

(Courtesy: the Green family)

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The Seven-Year Old Policeman

Six-year old Noah Michael Davis of Shawnee, Kansas. wanted to be a policeman so he could make sure “everyone was safe.” He didn’t make it. Instead, he drowned in the family swimming pool and was declared brain dead. Although he couldn’t help everyone, his family did donate his kidneys, giving two very sick people their lives back. On what would have been his seventh birthday, he was sworn in as an honorary police officer.

noah - the 7-year-old policeman

Noah Davis, Honorary Police Officer

(Courtesy: the Davis family)

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