AHA News: For 27 years, organ donation has been driven by the ‘Nicholas Effect’ – Consumer Health News

TUESDAY, April 19, 2022 (American Heart Association News) — Nicholas Green should have turned 35 this year.

Instead, a random act of violence claimed his life while on holiday with his family in Italy more than 27 years ago. The story captivated a global audience. Just like what happened next.

Nicholas’s organs and corneas were donated to seven people. Her heart went to a 15-year-old boy and one of her corneas to a mother who was struggling to see her baby.

Recognizing the opportunity to turn his family’s tragedy into a blessing for others, Reg Green, Nicholas’ father, began a quest that changed countless lives. It was the source of a TV movie, the inspiration for a bell tower in California and the impetus for a campaign in Italy that could help connect more recipients with their donor’s families.

Now 93, Reg lives in La Cañada Flintridge, California, near Los Angeles. Although injuries have recently prevented him from doing what was once a daily hike in the foothills near his home, he can be found every day answering emails, making calls or writing articles in hopes of saving and improving lives through what Italian media have dubbed “the Nicholas Effect.”

“It amazes me that it has touched so many different people and lasted all these years,” Reg said. “It’s something bigger than I could have imagined.”

The story begins in September 1994, when Reg and Maggie Green were driving down a highway in Italy. Their children, Nicholas, 7, and Eleanor, 4, were sleeping in the back seat of the family’s rental car.

The thieves thought their car was carrying jewelry. They fired through the rear window. A single bullet hit one of them. It lodged at the base of Nicholas’s brain.

Over the next two days, doctors at a hospital in Sicily attempted to save the boy. Meanwhile, the sensational story – of a young American shot dead by highway robbers in Italy because of mistaken identity – quickly made headlines across the country and beyond.

When doctors declared Nicholas brain dead, Italians expressed their grief, from people on the streets to the Prime Minister.

Maggie and Reg decided to donate Nicholas’s organs and corneas. They went to four teenagers and three adults.

If one small body could do all this, Reg thought, imagine how many people could be helped if more people became organ donors?

“I knew we had an opportunity,” said Reg, who had previously worked as a journalist in London and then wrote a financial newsletter. “I saw this as the biggest news of my life. We had the chance to change the direction of organ donation.”

Back home in the Bay Area of ​​California, Reg and Maggie established the Nicholas Green Foundation to support organ and tissue donation worldwide.

In Italy, the impact “was almost instantaneous,” Reg said. “Donation rates increased 30% in the fourth quarter of 1994 and increased every year for the next 10 years until they were triple what they were before he was killed.”

Reg was soon giving interviews and publishing opinion pieces in countries as diverse as India, Australia and Venezuela. He and Maggie began traveling wherever they were asked to promote their cause. (Maggie stopped traveling as much in 1996, when she and Reg had twins, Laura and Martin.)

“People all over the world were realizing, some for the first time, the power of organ donation,” Reg said.

The momentum took many forms.

In 1995, sculptor Bruce Hasson volunteered to build a bell tower dedicated to deceased children. The Italians donated more than 140 bells, the centerpiece of which was blessed by Pope John Paul II. (In 2018, Nicolas’ sister, Eleanor, was married at the site of the sculpture.)

In 1998, the TV movie “Nicholas’ Gift” aired, starring Jamie Lee Curtis. Earlier this year, Curtis posted on social media about the “privilege of representing Maggie Green” and cited the Nicholas Effect. She called organ donation “honouring, humbling and haunting”.

At the start of the nonprofit, Reg received a letter from a 21-year-old university student in Rome named Andrea Scarabelli. He wanted to help.

Scarabelli began translating articles published in Italy into English for the Greens. He then translated Reg’s books, articles and speeches into Italian and even organized media tours throughout Italy.

“Reg and Maggie really changed the attitude of a nation,” Scarabelli said. “Now organ donation is considered a normal thing in Italy.”

When Nicholas’s organs were donated, Greens were extremely moved upon meeting the recipients. One of the recipients was a 19-year-old woman who nearly died the same night as the boy; she is now the mother of two children, including a boy whom she named Nicholas.

However, the laws in Italy have changed, no longer facilitating contact between organ recipients and the family of their donor. Beginning in 2016, Reg and Scarabelli began pushing to give donors and recipients opportunities to meet. A bill to this effect has been introduced by a group of legislators.

Maggie praised her husband’s tireless efforts.

“I’m a willing participant, but he was always the driving force,” she said.

Maggie said that while her family celebrated the life and mourned Nicholas’ death with the world, they also have their private memories.

“People outside of the family remember the day he died,” she said. “We remember his birthday.”

American Heart Association News covers heart and brain health. Any opinions expressed in this story do not reflect the official position of the American Heart Association. Copyright is owned or held by the American Heart Association, Inc., and all rights are reserved. If you have any questions or comments about this story, please email editor@heart.org.

By Diane Daniel, American Heart Association News


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