Category Archives: Italy

Organ Donation Group Comforts Families Who Didn’t Donate 

The Aido group of Alessandria (a volunteer group in the Piedmont region of Northern Italy) and the Alessandria hospital will soon open a “Nicholas’ room” (named for ‘our’ Nicholas) to give psychological support not just to the families of organ donors but also to those who decided not to donate. “These people do not deserve to be judged, but must be supported and helped,” the group’s president, Nadia Biancato, said. 

“That ‘no’ said in a dramatic moment can lead to beautiful unselfish deeds in the future.” It can also stimulate them to talk of their experience so that others might make different decisions about organ donation, she added. 

Aido Alessandria - Nicholas' room

The introduction of “Nicholas’ room” project

The plan is to extend the project to all other areas of Piedmont.” The City of Health hospital in Turin, Piedmont’s capital, already runs a similar project for donor families and has been very pleased with the results but the Alessandria version is the first in Italy to include non-donors.
Here is the link to a local news source (in Italian):

https://radiogold.it/cronaca/315900-alessandria-sostegno-psicologico-famiglie-donazione-organi/

 

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The letter from the father of Nicholas Green: “My battle to allow contacts between the two sides in organ donation”

(Article by Reg Green published in ‘La Repubblica’, an Italian national newspaper. March 3, 2022)

When Dan and Shirley Mason. an American couple, met Inger Jessen, who when 55 years old had received the heart of their 18-year old daughter, Nicole, it was one of the most meaningful events of their lives. They all hugged, cried with joy and exchanged stories. They have become close friends.

The dramatic culmination of their first meeting was when the Masons heard through a stethoscope the steady beat of their daughter’s heart. “I couldn’t believe it,” Dan said later.  “Since Nikki was killed in a car accident twenty years ago, I think of her every day. She seems so far away. But here she was again.” Inger too was profoundly moved. “Since then,” she says, “I have felt a peace I haven’t known in years.”

     As the father of Nicholas Green, the seven-year old California boy who was shot in an attempted robbery on the Salerno to Reggio Calabria autostrada and whose organs and corneas my wife, Maggie, and I donated to seven very sick Italians, I share their view: the bonds we have forged with those seven have had a healing effect on all of us.

     On our side, we have been gratified to see how our son’s organs have transformed life for people who were once on the brink of death. To give just one example: Maria Pia Pedalà, the 19-year old Sicilian who received Nicholas’ liver had a baby four years after the transplant — an impossible happening beforehand. She called the baby Nicholas and in a family with a history of liver disease he is fit enough to have become a non-commissioned officer in the navy.

    On their side, the recipients can see we don’t hold it against them that they are living only because our son died — and that has freed them from the sense of guilt that many recipients carry with them for the rest their lives. Twenty-seven years after the transplants, five of the seven are still alive.

   But communication between organ donor families and their recipients is almost impossible in Italy under a law (91/99) that was passed more than twenty years ago because lawmakers feared that any contact, even if both sides want it, risks psychological damage. Even anonymous letters are forbidden!

     In the United States, however, tens of thousands of families have either met face to face or have written to each other and in the overwhelming majority of cases the happiness and health of both sides have improved. In fact every one of the 58 organ procurement organizations in the United States, that under the Department of Health look after both donors and recipients, encourages contact.

La Repubblica Facebook post - March 12 2022

The article had more than 16,000 likes on the Facebook page of the newspaper

     Of course, these contacts are planned in conjunction with the families’ medical advisers: finding each other through the Internet, as some Italian families do, is asking for trouble. Contact usually begins when one side writes anonymously to their transplant team, who scrutinize it to make sure there is no sign of risk, such as an overwrought family or one likely to make emotional demands on the other side. If the family receiving the letter does not want to write back, communication stops cold. If they want to reply, however, they do so, also anonymously, and the first family also has the option of continuing or breaking off the conversation there and then. After a while, however, both sides can reveal their identity if they wish and share their experiences as many thousands have.

     The result of all this care is that none of the morbid forecasts of things going wrong has happened on any scale. For example, I couldn’t uncover one case in America of a donor asking a recipient for money. Instead, imagine the thrill we had when a cousin of the 15-year old who received Nicholas’ heart told us that after the transplant he said to everyone he met, “I used to have a worn-out old jalopy for a heart. Now I have a Ferrari.”

     To this day in Italy when those who oppose liberalization are asked for proof of any significant numbers of things going wrong they are unable to provide them. Can things go wrong? Of course. But the thousands and thousands of medically documented cases where things went well in the US are evidence that the problems are extremely rare. I challenge opponents of change to show any statistics of problems.

     Despite all this, when I, with just one helper, Andrea Scarabelli in Rome, started a campaign in 2016 to liberalize contacts between the two sides in Italy we were so alone that we became known as Don Quixote and Sancho Panza. But we sent the evidence we collected to every national organization involved in transplantation and, after studying it, all of them — the National Transplantation Center, the National Bioethics Committee and the National Institute of Health — have come out in favor of contact when it is done under authorized medical supervision and when both sides have clearly expressed a desire for it. Dr Pierpaolo Sileri, Deputy Minister of Health, has said firmly, “La liberalizzazione dei contatti tra riceventi e donatori è un gesto di umanità e civiltà, un atto doveroso”. I hope readers of this article will support the legislation that has been introduced to allow that to happen and relieve a lot of unhappiness in families who have performed one of the most selfless acts our society knows.

(Link to the article in Italian: https://www.repubblica.it/cronaca/2022/03/03/news/la_lettera_del_papa_di_nicholas_green_la_mia_battaglia_per_far_incontrare_chi_ha_donato_gli_organi-340120452/)

Author: Reg Green.

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Italian Organ Donation Rates Rebound to Record Levels

Organ donation rates in Italy are of great interest to Maggie and me because when our seven-year old son, Nicholas, became a donor there 27 years ago, the rates were almost the lowest in Western Europe. They are now among the highest. The latest official figures, just out, show donation rates have more than made up the decline that came with COVID-19 in 2020. Last year they went up 12.1 percent, reaching a rate of 22.9 per million of the population. When Nicholas was killed it was a little over 6 per million.

organ donation report 2021 by region in Italy

Source: Italian National Transplant Center (CNT) and SITO (Italian Society for Organ Donation) annual report

Many people express surprise that donations are such a low percentage around the world (“only 22 per million?” they say) but that is because donating organs is possible for only about 1 percent of the population, mostly people who die of a blow to the head as in a road accident, a fall or violence. The new figures show that 69 percent of Italians say they would become donors if they are eligible. This is a phenomenal change and people and institutions of all kinds have played their part.

Transplants over the years - preliminary data on 2021

Source: Italian National Transplant Center and SITO report – preliminary data

Speaking only of our own campaign, they range from Pope John Paul II — who showed how deeply moved he was by Nicholas’ death and the generous-hearted response of the Italian people, by authorizing the casting of a magnificent bell with the name of Nicholas and his seven recipients on it — to ordinary people all over Italy,  some in their thirties and forties who were then just children, even people not born at the time but who have heard the story from their parents or teachers.

IMG_2755 SITO CONFERENCE, ROME 2016

Reg Green speaks at SITO conference (Rome, November 2016)

Most of the individual names will be unfamiliar to readers but they show the variety of our allies. First is Andrea Scarabelli, with whom I have worked hand-in-glove from within days of Nicholas’ death, and who I call Nicholas’ best friend. Without him ‘the Nicholas Effect’ could easily have petered out after a few years instead of being a force virtually every adult Italian still knows about.

     So let me take this opportunity to publicly thank the Ministry of Health, the National Bioethics Committee, the National Transplantation Center and the National Institute of Health, in all of which we have close contacts. And, thank you, Italian journalists for recognizing the importance of organ donation even when it was not making the headlines: your ability to see the suffering of real people behind the statistics made me feel very proud of being a journalist too. But especially I want to thank Luca Dini, former editor of Vanity Fair Italy and now editor of “F” magazine, Maria Emilia Bonaccorso, the health editor and Livia Parisi, the health reporter at ANSA, who have been the three media people most loyal to Nicholas’ memory.

IMG_2772 SITO CONFERENCE, ROME 2016

At SITO conference (Rome, November 2016)

Thanks also to those branches I have visited of Aido (the volunteer group that works with donor families and recipients) with whom I have had some of the most enthusiastic meetings of my life — and especially the heroic and tenacious Piero Gallo at Aido Giussano — whose commitment has never wavered from the moment I met him — and to three of the most beautiful women in the world (Jamie Lee Curtis, Alessia Marcuzzi and Sophia Loren) all of whom have told me personally how deeply moved they were  by Nicholas’ story. Thanks also to Professor Natale De Santo and other professors of medicine, transplant physicians and nurses, to Giusy De Rosa, a teacher who I first met at one of the 31 schools that, all over Italy from the Alps to Sicily, were named for Nicholas, to Marco Galbiati (another father who lost a beloved son and joined us by collecting fifty thousand signatures after we began a national campaign to allow donor families to meet recipients) and the thousands — yes, thousands — of other people who have worked with us in the last 27 years! With such enlightened activists is it any wonder that Italian donation rates are now among the highest in the world?

Reg Green

 

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Meeting Recipients One Of My Most Fulfilling Moments

February 4th will be the 26th anniversary when my wife, Maggie, and I first met six of the seven people whose lives were transformed because they received the organs or corneas of my seven-year old son, Nicholas Green. Nicholas, an American boy, was shot in a bungled robbery on the Salerno to Reggio Calabria autostrada four months earlier while we were on a family vacation. The seventh recipient was doing well but was still recovering in hospital.

    Meeting them in Messina, in an event arranged by the Bonino-Pulejo Foundation, was one of the most fulfilling events of my life. (Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IzCKZBfPcGE).

Until then they were just names. Seeing them brought it home to me in the most vivid way how much devastation our simple decision had saved.

Meeting with all the recipients a year after the first time

Meeting all the recipients a year later
Courtesy of OGGI magazine (1996)

     Twenty-six years later five of the recipients are still living productive lives, although one is back on dialysis and another had to have a second corneal transplant.

      That meeting, however, would be impossible in Italy now. In 1999 a law was passed forbidding healthcare personnel to divulge any information about either organ donors or recipients. It had the best of motives – to ensure privacy — but has had the insensitive, some would say cruel, result that the two families can never have more than the most basic information about each other. They cannot even exchange anonymous letters.

   But now a bill has been introduced in Parliament to allow the two sides to write to each other, if both want to, or even meet, under conditions set by their doctors. Dr. Pierpaolo Sileri, Deputy Minister of Health comments, “The liberalization of contacts between recipients and donor families is a deed of humanity and civilization, a right and proper act”.

    This is an astounding change. When I started a campaign in 2016 to liberalize contacts, I could not get a single doctor or health care official to join me — only a friend from Rome, Andrea Scarabelli. We were so alone we became known as Don Quixote and Sancho Panza.

     But when we opened our campaign enough open-minded people in the media were able to visualize how comforting it is for donor families to learn what a difference their donation has made. Some of the largest newspapers published major articles, some of the largest television shows ran interviews, radio interviews reached drivers stuck in traffic. From being a subject that was as dead as the dodo, people all over Italy began to ask the health authorities: “If two families with as close a bond as this want to contact each other, why should some bureaucrat have the power so say no?” Marco Galbiati, of Lecco, whose 15-year old son, Ricky, died in 2017, collected 50,000 signatures to repeal the law.

     But we did not have to rely on emotion. In the United States, where contacts are not only allowed but have been strongly recommended for nearly thirty years, tens of thousands of families have written to each other and some of them have met. Clinically-documented reports show the great majority of these contacts have been therapeutic for both sides.

    After studying the evidence, each of the main health authorities — the National Bioethics Committee, the National Institute of Health and the National Transplant Center — spoke in favor of allowing contacts. The bill in Parliament embodies their recommendations.

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25th Anniversary of Nicholas death and Donation. An article on the Santa Rosa Press Democrat

Article by Chris Smith  – September 26, 2019 – Santa Rosa Press Democrat

Link to the article: https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/10096291-181/smith-25-years-after-nicholas?artslide=0&sba=AAS

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Other Countries Say Communication Between Organ Donors And Recipients Is Beneficial In The “Vast Majority Of Cases.”

Evidence is coming in from widely different parts of the world that communication between organ donor families and their recipients is therapeutic for both sides, says Reg Green, father of Nicholas Green the seven-year old American boy who was shot on the Salerno-Reggio Calabria autostrada, who is leading a campaign for a public discussion of the application of Italy’s privacy policies that prevents any communication between the two sides. He cites remarks by Anthony Clarkson, Assistant Director for Organ Donation and Nursing at United Kingdom’s National Health Service Blood and Transplant, who says communication “is a positive and beneficial experience in the vast majority of cases.”

Mr. Clarkson adds: “When asked, nine out of 10 donor families indicated they would like to hear from the recipients of their loved one’s organs. Donor families who are contacted tell us it brings them great comfort and are grateful that their precious gift of donation has been acknowledged.”

In Italy, the law enacted in 1999 forbids health service personnel from giving any information about patients donating or receiving an organ. Mr. Clarkson did not make his remarks in reference to Italy. They are the United Kingdom’s conclusions from its own experience.

They were quoted in a statement sent to the British newspaper, The Guardian, on September 29 by Dave Marteau, father of a 21-year old Englishman killed in a road accident in Palermo whose organs were donated to four Italians but whose family was unable to find out anything about them for eight years.

It is clear that the way Italian privacy laws are applied is causing pain to many donor families, despite the selfless decision of those families to save the lives of complete strangers,” Mr Green says.

Mr. Marteau also cites a survey at a university hospital in Brazil that found 67% of organ donation families wanted to meet recipients while 82% of transplanted patients expressed a desire to meet with donor families. “A large Californian study came up with similar findings, with 70% of donor families and 75% of organ recipients saying they would like to have phone or letter contact with their counterparts,” he adds.

In the United States, the 58 organ procurement organizations that oversee organ donation in all fifty states are unanimous in encouraging communication, according to Mr. Green, which can range from the exchange of anonymous letters to face-to-face meetings.

One of them, Lifebanc, based in Cleveland, home of the world-renowned Cleveland Clinic and University Hospitals of Cleveland, with whom it works closely, adds another dimension. “The healing power of donation and transplantation is perhaps never more powerful than when a donor family meets the recipients of their loved one’s life-saving gifts,” says its CEO, Gordon Bowen.

From a press release of The Nicholas Green Foundation – October 2017

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The life of the others thanks to the organs of Nicholas

Article written by Reg Green and published in the first page of the Italian newspaper “Il Corriere della Sera” on August 23, 2018

    

A few months ago I received an email from complete strangers that has haunted me ever since. It came from an English couple, Dave and Debbie Marteau, whose 21-year old son, Jack, was killed in a road accident in Palermo in 2009 and whose organs were donated to three Italian families. Despite repeated attempts in those eight years they have not been able to find out anything about the recipients.

They don’t know if they are young or old, male or female or what they do for a living. They don’t even know if they are alive. Their pain was clear in every line.

The Marteaus wrote to me because my wife, Maggie, and I who are American, donated the organs of our seven-year old son, Nicholas, to seven very sick Italians, after he was shot in an attempted carjacking on the Salerno-Reggio Calabria autostrada in 1994.

Two foreign families, two identical decisions — but in our case the names of the recipients, their pictures and the stories of their rescue from the very edge of death were flashed around world and tens of millions of people realized, many for the first time, that hearts, kidneys, livers and other body parts that would otherwise be buried could instead bring dying people, many of them very young, back to full health.

Everywhere, from Russia and Venezuela to India and Taiwan, the willingness to donate was stimulated. I know because people in all those places have told me they personally were affected. In Italy alone in the following 10 years organ donation rates tripled, a rate of increase no other country has come close to and thousands of people are alive who would have died.

The difference between the two incidents is that in 1999 a law was passed that forbade healthcare personnel from revealing the identity of people involved in a transplant.

The law does not forbid the two sides from contacting each other — it would be unconstitutional if it did – but it has effectively prevented it.

The goal is laudable: to protect privacy and allow the healing process to continue for both donors and recipients. Everyone wants that. The question now is whether the law is being interpreted too rigidly for any family to find information that would help give it peace of mind.

Among other objections, opponents of change often say that if the transplant fails, the donor family may experience again the pain of losing their own loved ones. Maggie and I have personal experience about that. Two of Nicholas’ recipients have died but we have never felt we were losing him again, only the sadness of losing two other brave people with whom we had a bond.

Even then the loss was eased by their families’ gratitude that their loved one had that second chance. After the transplant, Andrea Mongiardo, the boy who got Nicholas’ heart told everyone he now had a Ferrari inside him now instead of a patch-up old jalopy. Valentina Lijoi, a cousin of his, smiled when she told me that story after Andrea died and I told her I feel sure it will make me smile too till my dying day: a beautiful shared moment and surely therapeutic for both of us.

Every country has to decide what degree of connection is desirable but I am convinced that as a general rule letting the two pairs of families, working with their doctors, make that decision offers by far the best chance of success.

In the United States, the two sides can contact each other if both want to – but only if both want to. The first contact is normally by anonymous letter, sent through the hospital, so that neither side can identify the other. The letters are read by their doctors to make sure there are no problems — that one side, for example, is not likely to make demands that the other does not want.

In time, if all goes well, they can reveal their names. Typically, they exchange stories that warm each other’s hearts. The recipients say what they can do that they were too ill to do before the transplant. The donor families describe what the donors’ favorite sports were, if they had children, tell anecdotes.Their doctors are ready to help resolve any friction that might occur and either party can break off contact at any stage.

Elling Eidbo, CEO of the Association of Organ Procurement Organizations, the US government-appointed organizations that administer these programs, says most donor families interact with their recipients in some way. These organizations, which work closely with hospitals all across the country, confirm that in the large majority of cases the results are positive: they help recovery not hinder it.

Can things go wrong? Of course. That’s life. But those occasions are rare. To give just one example: the CEO of one of the most successful OPOs says that in 38 years in his area, which has millions of people, he can remember only two cases of contact causing problems in his area, which includes millions of people. Two! In 38 years!

As a foreigner, it is not my place to make recommendations but I have a question about how the law is being applied: is preventing the few cases that go wrong worth denying every Italian family who wants it the consolation of knowing more about the people who saved their lives or whose lives they saved?

Reg Green.

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My son died in 1994 but his heart only stopped beating this year

Article by Harry Low – BBC

May 2017

Link to the complete article: http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-39422660 

Link to the Facebook post: https://www.facebook.com/bbcnews/posts/10154643441412217

Link to BBC Mundo – Spanish: http://www.bbc.com/mundo/noticias-39815787

Link to BBC Brazil – Portuguese: http://www.bbc.com/portuguese/geral-39818220

 

 

 

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An Open Letter to the Italian People

After taking me to dinner at the famous Cesarina restaurant in Rome the other night — once the second home of Federico Fellini and Marcello Mastroianni — my host, a renowned transplant surgeon, told the maitre d’ that I was the father of an American boy who was shot in an attempted carjacking on the Salerno-Reggio Calabria autostrada and whose organs were donated to seven Italians, four of them teenagers. “Ah, Nicholas Green,” came the reply and as we shook hands I saw tears in his eyes.

It was deeply satisfying to me for my seven-year old son to be remembered in the company of such gods of world cinema but, I have to say, not a great surprise. Twenty years ago, I wrote ‘an open letter’ to the Italian people, thanking them for their massive eruption of support for our family. In a long lifetime I still can’t recall anything else like it anywhere in the world.

Now, just back from my latest visit, I am writing another open letter to mark an equally unprecedented event: the continuation of that emotion after all these years. I have grown used to it but in many ways it is even more meaningful than the initial upsurge.

Italy has turned its sorrow into the most practical benefit possible. immediately after Nicholas was killed organ donation rates soared and went on soaring for 10 years until they are now triple what they were then, a rate of increase no other country has come close to. Thousands of people are alive, who would have died, including many children. a gain of that size must have contributory causes but no one doubts that the prime reason was the story of one small boy and Italy’s generous-hearted response to it.

History is littered with good causes of white-hot intensity that cool a few months later. Every day the media is full of tragedies, sometimes involving thousands of deaths that a year or two later most readers find difficult to remember in any detail. Yet this one small death has stayed in the hearts of millions of Italians, many of them who were just children themselves when Nicholas was killed.

On this latest visit I heard again what I have heard on the forty something other times I have been in Italy to talk about organ donation: people of all types, from professors of philosophy to members of an alpine rescue team, saying just where they were when they heard we had donated his organs: “I had just come home from work,” “I heard it on the car radio when I was going to pick up my daughter from school.” “My whole family were glued to the television set waiting for more news” and tears come to their eyes. This is the kind of thing we who are old enough to remember used to say after President Kennedy was shot to describe our shocked disbelief.

On a recent trip to Sicily I talked to a class of small children, who listened wide-eyed as I told them how a little boy not much older than them had saved the lives of five people and restored the sight of two others. “You and your wife spoke in this school in the year after Nicholas was killed,” the principal reminded me. It was only then that i realized I was talking to the children of the children who had also gazed at me in wonder that day in 1995.

In the hallway of another school there are two clocks, one like those in every other Italian school, the other marked ‘bodega bay time,’ a daily reminder of the little village in California where Nicholas lived and a continuing stimulus to the idealism of the students.

Traveling on a road in southern Italy last year, we suddenly came to a road block manned by strikers from a local factory. The line of traffic was long and growing. Burly men were on hand to silence anyone pleading to get through. My driver drove on slowly but undaunted. “Get back over there,” the strike leader ordered us. “I’m with the father of the American boy who was shot,” the driver replied. “He’s going to give a speech about organ donation.” A suspicious face peered inside the car, then broke into a smile. “Let this one through,” he told his fellows and off we went.

Nicholas at the age of 7, on the Alps, a few days before he was killed

Every segment of the population continues to show its sympathy: young, old, rich, poor, every shade of political opinion, every religion or none, some of the world’s most prominent men — Maggie and I have met two Italian prime ministers and a president, all of whom have treated us like old family friends, not as leaders of their country — and some of the most beautiful women. At a dinner at the White House for a visiting prime minister, some years ago, where i was a guest, I spoke to Sophia Loren, another guest, who told me, “We Italians feel very close to you.” (Wow!). One night in Rome, when blonde bombshell Alessia Marcuzzi was sitting at a nearby table in a restaurant, I introduced myself as Nicholas’ father. That night she wrote a short piece on her Facebook page. Normally she receives a thousand ‘likes’ for these posts. For this one, it was 39,000 including thousands of passionate comments in favor of organ donation.

The Catholic Church has been heartfelt in its support at every level. Pope John Paul II authorized the making of a magnificent bell with Nicholas’ name and those of his recipients on it for a bell tower commemorating children who have died that we built in Bodega Bay. On the tower are 140 other bells, most of them sent by Italian families. I think of it as a little piece of Italy’s soul on the Pacific Ocean. At the grassroots level, an order of young nuns, The Apostles of the Interior Life, who combine four hours of prayer a day with the most tender compassion for humanity, were eager to help extract the greatest possible good out of Nicholas’ death, when I visited them in Rome recently.

I also met for the first time Valentina Lijou, a cousin of Andrea Mongiardo, the boy who at age 15 received Nicholas’ heart and who died a few weeks ago. Two years older than her, he had been the driving force in their childhood games. “He was always making us laugh,” she said. By the time of the transplant, however, he was receiving transfusions of blood products twice a week, a gaunt, frail little figure who could barely shuffle to the door of his apartment.  All that changed with the transplant: “I’ve now got a Ferrari for a heart,” he used to say. Like most transplants, this one didn’t prolong a sickly life: it transformed it and, until last June, he was living a more or less normal life in good spirits and with a job. Once, when I met him, I remember putting my hand on his heart and feeling it beating strongly and regularly. “Good boy, Nicholas,” I said to myself. To the very end that heart did its work perfectly and Andrea’s death was due not to its weakening but to respiratory failure.

I think everyone who has heard about Nicholas knows he loved Italy: Maggie, who studied architecture, gave him his fascination with its art and monuments and I, through my love of history, helped add color. But it was his own personality that brought all this together into an appreciation for Italy far beyond his years. He thrilled to the idea of the ancient roads radiating out from the center of Rome to the ends of the known world, he was astonished by the mosaics at Ravenna and when I read to him the story of the blinded Polyphemus running his hands over the giant rams where Ulysses’ men were clinging I thought he would burst with excitement.

Having lost all this, we are asked at almost every stop, “Don’t you hate Italy?”  I hope the answer is clear. Maggie and I have never thought that Italy pulled the trigged. Two criminals killed Nicholas: it could have happened anywhere. But what couldn’t have happened anywhere was the response. I don’t think any other country in the world would have shown involvement of this order. It was that flood of human warmth that helped turn a reckless act of brutality into a universal lesson in which life has triumphed over death and hope over despair.

What else is there to say, except “Thank you, Italy”.

Reg Green

Link to the Italian version: https://nicholaseffect.org/2017/03/28/una-lettera-aperta-agli-italiani/

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Una Lettera Aperta Agli Italiani

Dopo avermi portato a cena nel famoso ristorante Cesarina a Roma qualche sera fa – una volta seconda casa di Federico Fellini e Marcello Mastroianni – il mio anfitrione, un rinomato chirurgo dei trapianti, ha raccontato al maître che io ero il padre del bambino Americano che era stato ucciso sull’Autostrada Salerno-Reggio Calabria e i cui organi erano stati donati a sette Italiani, quattro dei quali adolescenti. “Ah, Nicholas Green”, ha risposto lui, e mentre ci stringevamo la mano, ho visto delle lacrime nei suoi occhi.

E’ stato profondamente appagante per me che il mio bambino di sette anni fosse ricordato in compagnia di tali Dèi del cinema mondiale ma, devo dirlo, non è stata una grande sorpresa. Più di vent’anni fa, scrissi una ‘lettera aperta’ agli Italiani, ringraziandoli per la loro imponente esplosione di supporto verso la nostra famiglia. Nella mia lunga vita, ancora oggi non riesco a ricordare nulla di vagamente simile, in nessuna altra parte del mondo.

Adesso, tornato da poco dalla mia più recente visita in Italia, scrivo un’altra lettera all’Italia per registrare un evento ugualmente senza precedenti: la prosecuzione di quell’emozione dopo tutti questi anni. Dovrei ormai essermi abituato a questa cosa, ma in molti modi, ciò è ancor più sorprendente dell’iniziale impennata.

L’Italia ha trasformato il suo dolore nel beneficio più pratico possibile. Immediatamente dopo l’uccisione di Nicholas, i tassi della donazione degli organi sono schizzati verso l’alto e sono cresciuti costantemente per 10 anni, fino a che oggi sono il triplo di quanto non fossero inizialmente, un tasso di crescita a cui nessun’altra nazione è andato vicino. Centinaia di persone, inclusi molti bambini, che sarebbero morte, sono invece vive. Un incremento di tale portata deve avere delle cause che hanno contribuito, ma nessuno dubita che la ragione primaria sia stata la storia di un bambino e la reazione generosa dell’Italia ad essa.

La Storia è disseminata di buone cause che hanno un’intensità incandescente e si raffreddano pochi mesi dopo. Ogni giorno i media sono pieni di tragedie che a volte coinvolgono migliaia di persone, e che uno o due anni dopo i lettori fanno fatica a ricordare nei dettagli. Eppure questa piccola morte è rimasta nei cuori di milioni di Italiani, molti dei quali erano loro stessi bambini quando Nicholas venne ucciso.

Durante questa recente visita, ho ascoltato ancora quello che ho sentito nelle circa quaranta volte e più che sono venuto in Italia per parlare di donazione degli organi: persone di ogni genere, dai professori di filosofia ai membri del soccorso alpino che raccontano dove erano quando hanno saputo che avevamo donato gli organi di Nicholas: “Ero appena tornato a casa dal lavoro”, “L’ho sentito alla radio della macchina mentre andavo a prendere mia figlia a scuola”. “La mia famiglia era incollata al televisore in attesa di ulteriori notizie”, e mi vengono le lacrime agli occhi. Questo è il tipo di cose che noi che siamo grandi abbastanza da ricordarlo dicevamo quando fu ucciso il Presidente Kennedy, per descrivere la nostra sbigottita incredulità.

Durante un recente viaggio in Sicilia, ho parlato ad una classe di bambini piccoli, che ascoltavano ad occhi spalancati mentre raccontavo come un bambino non molto più grande di loro avesse salvato la vita di cinque persone e restituito la vista ad altre due. “Lei e sua moglie avete parlato in questa scuola un anno dopo la morte di Nicholas”, mi ha ricordato il preside. E’ stato solo allora che mi sono reso conto che stavo parlando ai figli dei bambini che mi avevano fissato anche loro con espressione meravigliata quel giorno del 1995.

Nell’atrio di un’altra scuola, ci sono due orologi, uno come quelli di ogni altra scuola italiana, l’altro con su scritto ‘Ora di Bodega Bay’, un promemoria quotidiano del piccolo villaggio della California dove viveva Nicholas, ed un continuo stimolo all’idealismo degli studenti.

Viaggiando in una strada dell’Italia del Sud l’anno scorso, incontrammo improvvisamente un blocco stradale creato da scioperanti di una fabbrica locale. La fila del traffico era lunga e aumentava. Uomini robusti erano a portata di mano per chetare chiunque implorasse di farlo passare. Il mio autista continuò a guidare lentamente ma imperterrito. “Tornate indietro”, ci ordinò il capo della protesta. “Accompagno il padre del bambino Americano che fu ucciso”, replicò l’autista. “Sta andando a tenere un discorso sulla donazione degli organi”. Una faccia sospettosa fece capolino nella macchina e poi eruppe in un sorriso. “Facciamoli passare”, disse ai suoi compagni, e così riprendemmo la nostra marcia.

Nicholas at the age of 7, on the Alps, a few days before he was killed

Ogni segmento della popolazione continua a mostrarci la sua compassione: giovani, anziani, ricchi, poveri, ogni categoria politica diversa, persone di ogni religione o non credenti, alcuni degli uomini più in vista – Maggie ed io abbiamo incontrato due Presidenti del Consiglio ed un Presidente della Repubblica Italiana, e tutti ci hanno trattato come vecchi amici di famiglia e non leader di una nazione – e alcune delle donne più belle. Ad una cena alla Casa Bianca per un Presidente del Consiglio in visita, alcuni anni fa, dove ero stato invitato come ospite, parlai con Sophia Loren, anche lei ospite, che mi disse “Noi Italiani ci sentiamo molto vicini alla vostra famiglia”. (Wow!). Una sera a Roma, quando Alessia Marcuzzi era seduta ad un tavolo vicino, mi presentai come il padre di Nicholas Green. Quella stessa sera, scrisse un breve messaggio sulla sua pagina Facebook. Normalmente riceve un migliaio di ‘mi piace’ per i suoi post. Per quello lì furono 39000, inclusi migliaia di appassionati commenti a favore della donazione degli organi.

La Chiesa Cattolica è stata accorata nel suo sostegno ad ogni livello. Papa Giovanni Paolo II autorizzò la realizzazione di una magnifica campana con il nome di Nicholas e dei suoi riceventi incisi sopra, per una torre campanaria che commemora i bambini che sono morti e che abbiamo costruito a Bodega Bay. Sulla scultura ci sono altre 140 campane, la maggior parte provenienti da famiglie italiane. Penso a questo monumento come ad un piccolo pezzo dell’anima dell’Italia lungo l’Oceano Pacifico. A livello di base, un ordine di giovani suore, Le Apostole della Vita Interiore, che combinano quattro ore di preghiera al giorno con la più tenera compassione per l’umanità, si sono dimostrate desiderose di aiutare ad estrarre quanto più bene possibile dalla morte di Nicholas, quando ho fatto loro visita a Roma recentemente.

Ho anche incontrato per la prima volta Valentina Lijou, una cugina di Andrea Mongiardo, il ragazzo che a 15 anni ricevette il cuore di Nicholas e che è morto poche settimane fa. Due anni più grande di lei, Andrea era stato la forza motrice dei loro giochi d’infanzia. “Ci faceva sempre ridere”, mi ha detto. All’epoca del trapianto, comunque, Andrea riceveva trasfusioni di prodotti ematici due volte a settimana – una magra fragile figurina che riusciva a malapena a trascinarsi fino alla porta del suo appartamento. Tutto questo cambiò con il trapianto: “Adesso ho una Ferrari per cuore”, era solito dire. Come molti trapianti, questo non prolungò semplicemente un’esistenza malaticcia: la trasformò e, fino a Giugno scorso, Andrea ha vissuto una vita più o meno normale, di buon umore e con un lavoro. Ricordo che una volta che lo incontrai misi la mia mano sul suo cuore e lo sentii battere forte e regolare. “Bravo, Nicholas”, dissi a me stesso. Fino alla fine, quel cuore ha fatto perfettamente il suo lavoro, e la dipartita di Andrea non è stata dovuta al suo indebolimento ma a dei problemi respiratori.

Penso che chiunque abbia sentito parlare di Nicholas sappia che lui amava l’Italia: Maggie, che ha studiato architettura, gli infondeva il fascino della sua arte e dei suoi monumenti, ed io, attraverso il mio amore per la storia, lo aiutavo ad aggiungerci colore. Ma fu la sua propria personalità che mise tutto questo insieme, in un gradimento per l’Italia che era molto oltre i suoi anni. Si entusiasmava all’idea delle vecchie strade che si irradiavano dal centro di Roma fino alla fine del mondo conosciuto. Si stupiva di fronte ai mosaici di Ravenna e quando gli lessi la storia di Polifemo che accecato tasta le pecore dove gli uomini di Ulisse si erano aggrappati, pensai che stesse per esplodere dall’eccitazione.

Avendo perso tutto ciò, a quasi ogni tappa ci viene chiesto, “Non odiate l’Italia?”. Spero che la risposta sia chiara. Maggie ed io non abbiamo mai pensato che l’Italia avesse premuto il grilletto. Furono due criminali ad uccidere Nicholas: sarebbe potuto succedere ovunque. Ma quello che invece non sarebbe potuto accadere ovunque fu la reazione. Credo che nessun’altra nazione al mondo avrebbe mostrato un coinvolgimento di tale grado. Fu quella inondazione di calore umano che ci aiutò a trasformare uno sconsiderato atto di brutalità in una lezione universale in cui la vita trionfa sulla morte, e la speranza sulla disperazione.

Cos’altro c’è da dire, se non “Grazie, Italia”.

Reg Green.

Link alla versione in Inglese: https://nicholaseffect.org/2017/03/28/an-open-letter-to-the-italian-people/

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