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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Jamie Lee Curtis talks of “Nicholas’ Gift” on her Instagram page (January 13 2022)

Jamie Lee Curtis, who played my wife, Maggie, in an almost forgotten  television movie about organ donation, once told me she was as proud of her performance in it as she was of anything else in her career. This week on her Instagram page she said the subject was  “haunting, honoring and humbling.”

JLC Instagram January 2022 V4

The movie is Nicholas’ Gift, a true story, and in it she plays the mother of our seven-year old son, Nicholas, whose organs and corneas we donated after he was shot in an attempted robbery during a family vacation in Italy in 1994.  I don’t see how anyone could watch it and remain indifferent to organ donation.

recipients 1

The seven recipients two years after their transplant with the Greens and their three children. Left to right standing: Reg and Maggie Green; Andrea Mongiardo (heart); Francesco Mondello (cornea); Tino Motta (kidney); Anna Maria di Ceglie (kidney); Eleanor Green. Sitting: Laura Green, Maria Pia Pedala (liver), Domenica Galletta (cornea), Silvia Ciampi (pancreas cells), Martin Green. Photo included here by permission of Oggi magazine, Italy

Given that she has starred in a variety of blockbuster movies in the last forty years and amassed a string of awards — most recently the top Lifetime Achievement Award at the Venice Film Festival in September 2021 — her assessment is an extraordinary comment on a movie that is rarely-mentioned nowadays in the United States, although it has been seen by 100 million viewers worldwide.

Reg Green

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The first-grade classroom of a new school is named for Nicholas

The first-grade classroom in a new primary school for gifted children in Catania, Sicily, has been named for Nicholas. The John Dewey Institute, which emphasizes linguistics and international studies, features his story as an example of creative ties between countries. 

John Dewey Institute

The principal, Professor Giuseppe Adernò, a tireless spokesman for organ donation, says “When the organs and corneas of this little American boy went to seven Italians it changed the entire attitude of the country to organ donation.”

Catania John Dewey Institute - classroom

Four of Nicholas’ seven recipients are Sicilian: the liver recipient who had a son after the transplant whom she named Nicholas; a kidney recipient, who was only 10 when he was transplanted; and two adults who were saved from blindness.  

Professor Adernò was the principal of another school when Nicholas was killed 27 years ago. In the hallway of that school there were two clocks: one on Italian time, the other on California time, where Nicholas had lived, to remind the students every day that anyone, however small, could help others at any time.  

 

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New edition of “The Nicholas Effect”

A new low-priced edition of The Nicholas Effect, the book I wrote of how the shooting of a young boy saved thousands of lives, has just been issued.

“I can think of no book that surpasses The Nicholas Effect in opening the heart,” Bud Gardner, editor of Chicken Soup for the Writer’s Soul, said of it. The book was the basis for the Jamie Lee Curtis made-for-television movie, “Nicholas’ Gift.

Book cover

It includes chapters on how Nicholas was shot and what life is like for our family without him, the trial of his killers, the making of the movie and the extraordinary response to his death around the world. The book can be bought on all the usual online sites. For Amazon, you may click here

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Data: ‘Italian organ donations 1992-2020’

On October 1 it will be 27 years since Nicholas died and became a donor. The effect on organ donations in Italy was spectacular. Even in the fourth quarter of 1994, just weeks after he was killed, donation rates went up 20 percent. In the next ten years they tripled, a rate of increase no other country has even come close to. 

Organ donations in Italy over the years - SIT report

Source: “Annual Report on Italian Organ Donation, to December 31 2020; Transplant Information System, Italian National Transplant Center”

(Light green is living donations of kidneys, orange is living donations of a portion of livers.)

The full report (in Italian) is at  https://trapianti.sanita.it/statistiche/attivita/2020_D_ATTIVITA_ORGANI_DX-TX.pdf

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Jamie Lee Curtis, who just received the Golden Lion Life Achievement Award at the Venice Film Festival on September 8, was once my wife!

     The first words Jamie Lee Curtis said to Maggie Green, the mother of Nicholas Green, the seven-year old California boy who was shot while on a family vacation in Italy, and whom she was going to play in a made-for-television movie, were: “I hope I won’t  let you down, Maggie.”

      I can’t think of any other superstar who would have had the unpretentiousness and sense of involvement to say anything like that. As the mother of two adopted children, Nicholas’ death was a knife in her own heart. Yet she was able to discipline her anguish into a performance that earned her a nomination for an Emmy.

movie GreensOnLocation

     The movie, “Nicholas’ Gift,” was based on our decision to donate our son’s organs and corneas to seven very sick Italians, four of them teenagers.

     Awareness of the loss of life due to the shortage of donated organs increased all over the world as millions of people understood for the first time that a simple ‘yes’ could save multiple families from devastation. In Italy alone donations tripled in the next ten years, a rate of increase no other country has come close to,

     The movie was made in 1998, four years after Nicholas was killed. It has been seen by around a hundred million people, including forty million in the United States. Les Moonves, then CEO of CBS, said it was the network’s ‘crown jewel.’ In the movie, I am played by Alan Bates.

     A few days ago Jamie told me she is as proud of her performance in that role as anything else in her career. Deservedly. I don’t think anyone watching her working her way from the horror of the shooting to the quiet determination to save the lives of total strangers could remain indifferent to its message of selflessness. It was just how Maggie dealt with it in real life.

JLC VENICE FILM FESTIVAL

    On a street in Rome two or three years after the movie was made, a stranger came up to me and told me he was an extra in it. “We were all  expecting a bigshot Hollywood star but every day she ate in the canteen with the rest of the cast.”

     The genuine article? You bet.

P.S. Jamie, We were married for only ninety minutes but they were some of the most consequential in my life!

Reg Green

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Canada’s “Most Tenacious Donor Advocate”

George Marcello, Canada’s most tenacious advocate for organ donation, has died aged 65, after a long illness made worse by his refusal to slow his relentless campaign to raise awareness of the worldwide shortage of donated organs. In the 27 years that I have been traveling the world for the same cause, I have never met anyone who gave more of himself to organ donation. Working mostly alone, he took up the cause when his own life was saved in 1997 by a donated liver. He walked thousands of miles across  Canada carrying a torch — the Torch of Life, he called it — attracting a following in whatever community, large and small, he walked through. One of those who wanted to know more was Pope John Paul II who blessed the torch when he gave an audience to George in Rome in 2001. 

George Marcello

                             (Photo by ‘Step by Step Organ Transplant Association’)

Among his many initiatives was bringing together the family of Palestinans, whose son was shot by mistake by an Israeli soldier and whose organs went to Israeli children, and the mother of a British Jew who was blown up by a Palestinian terrorist, one of whose kidneys went to a Palestinian. I don’t know anyone else who would have thought of that powerful lesson for humanity and had the iron determination to make it happen.

For more please see https://www.canadahelps.org/en/charities/step-by-step-organ-transplant-association/ 

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Article on “IntechOpen”: ‘The results Are Positive in the Great Majority of Cases…’

IntechOpen, which describes itself as ‘the world’s largest publisher of online open access papers’ recently published a paper by Reg Green titled:

“The Results Are Positive for Both Sides in the Great Majority of Cases When Organ Donor Families and Their Recipients Decide to Communicate with Each Other, US Experience in Tens of Thousands of Cases Shows”

intech open video

Click this link to watch the video: 28E6021C-146D-40E7-B9F4-193CCC570762.mov

Here is the abstract and a link to the full article.

Abstract:

Many countries restrict the ability of organ donor families and their recipients to communicate with each other; many make it virtually impossible. These restrictions were made for the best of reasons, mainly because of fears that one side or the other might suffer psychological damage. In the United States, however, for more than 25 years, communication has been strongly encouraged if both parties want it and under conditions set by their medical advisers. In literally tens of thousands of cases, a great majority of those contacts, which can range from the exchange of anonymous letters to face-to-face meetings, have proved to be therapeutic for both sides and significant problems have been very rare. Indeed, it is the families who are kept apart who may suffer most. The author is an American journalist, whose seven-year old son was shot on a family vacation in Italy whose organs and corneas were donated there. He and his wife have met all seven recipients and everyone, he says, has benefited.

https://www.intechopen.com/online-first/the-results-are-positive-for-both-sides-in-the-great-majority-of-cases-when-organ-donor-families-and

For more information contact Reg Green at rfdgreen@gmail.com

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From Wisconsin Association of Talented and Gifted: “Nicholas Green Distinguished Student Award”

Twenty years ago Maggie and I began offering the Nicholas Green Distinguished Student Award to primary school students who displayed the characteristics they saw in their own son: love of learning, integrity, kindness.

The award, which included a check for $100, was offered through the state associations of teachers of gifted and talented students to one student in every  participating state. It was financed by the money the Greens had put aside for Nicholas’ college costs and when the money ran out, some states continued the project. Here is the announcement we received recently from the Wisconsin Association for the Talented and Gifted.

wisconsin NGA 2021

https://www.watg.org/awards–scholarships.html

Perhaps your state’s association of teachers would like to know more.

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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