Category Archives: Italia

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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Driving to another meeting in Sicily, without much time to spare, we suddenly came across twenty or so burly men who had set up a road block, strikers protesting the closing of the local plant of an oil company and the subsequent loss of jobs. A long line of drivers were arguing that they should be let through: I imagined kids waiting to be picked up at school, aged parents hanging around hospital waiting rooms, concerts, meals and homework missed. But the strikers were adamant. “Wait here till we open the road. This is important to us.” Nevertheless, my driver inched forward until we were alongside the strikers’ leader. “Where are you going? Stay in line with everyone else,” he was told brusquely. “I’ve got the father of Nicholas Green with me, the American child who was shot on the freeway in Calabria. He’s going to give a talk on organ donation at a school,” my driver replied. A skeptical face ducked down by the window, looked at me quizzically, then smiled broadly. “Let this one through,” he said to his pals and waved us on majestically.

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Donor is Like a Member of the Family

On a recent visit to Sicily, where four of Nicholas’ recipients live, I was invited to speak to the kindergartners at the Rita Atria School in Palermo, who listened breathlessly to the tale of a boy, just a year or two older than themselves, who saved other children when no one else in the world could. Afterward I talked with the principal about the visit Maggie and I made to the same school 21 years ago and were received with the same rapt attention then too. It dawned on me that these were the little children of the little children we talked to on that first visit: a whole generation of families for whom Nicholas has been part of their lives.

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“Nicholas has grown and lives in me”

“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 - Feb 19 2016 - part 1

(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.”

Visto - Feb 19 2016 - part 2

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.

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Policlinico Gemelli Hospital – Italy

The Policlinico Gemelli hospital, connected to the Catholic University of Rome, says “The Nicholas Effect” video (available at under DVDs)  is the most frequently-watched item on its website, even in competition with universal killers like cancer or headline grabbers like Zika.

Visit also


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Map of places named for Nicholas in Italy (Mappa dei luoghi intitolati a Nicholas in Italia)

Within days of Nicholas being killed, Italian communities of all sizes, from some of the largest cities to small villages began to talk about naming places for him. Twenty-one years later, 110 have been identified: streets, schools, parks, squares, and one bridge, all over Italy. Please click on any tab for more information.

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