Organ donor had wanted to give life, his mother says

May 19, 1991|By Newsday

DINWIDDIE, Va. -- William Norwood had hoped that even in death he could give life to others.

So it was without hesitation that the mother of the 22-year-old service station attendant gave doctors permission to transplant his organs after his murder at an all-night gas station in October 1985.

A short time before his death, "he had told me that when he died he wanted to have his organs donated," Bessie Rathbone said yesterday at her home in this rural community 12 miles south of Petersburg.

What she didn't know was that her son had the human immunodeficiency virus that causes acquired immune deficiency syndrome, and that his legacy would be one of death.

Mr. Norwood, a 10th-grade dropout, liked cars and fishing. He worked for a tree-trimming company before getting the job at the gas station.

Ms. Rathbone said that her son did not use drugs, and she speculated that he may have contracted AIDS sexually.

"He had quite a few girlfriends. In this day and age, you never know."

Officials at the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta and the Food and Drug Administration in Washington are searching for more than four dozen patients in 16 states who may have been exposed to the virus from tissue transplanted from Mr. Norwood.

"It came as quite a big shock to me," Ms. Rathbone, 49, said of her son's infection. "I had no idea. He wasn't sick or anything."

Though none of the agencies involved has identified Mr. Norwood as the donor, his mother said she was contacted and told that he was.

She said that she had agreed to donate only her son's heart, kidney and spine and that she thought they were intended only for one specific patient.

"I'm mad as hell because they took more than I authorized," she said. She said that if she signed a permission form for all his tissue, "I didn't know what the hell I was signing. They took advantage of the situation." She said she cannot read very well.

Officials could not be reached for comment yesterday at LifeNet Transplant Services, the central Virginia tissue- and organ-procurement network that distributed Mr. Norwood's organs.

Mr. Norwood was fatally wounded when a robber shot him in the face and took $178 from his shirt pocket one night at the gas station.

He told police the robber was a man driving a blue Chevrolet Monte Carlo. He died the next day.

His best friend, Ruebert Wright, described Mr. Norwood as an outgoing, considerate person.

"He'd do anything for you," Mr. Wright said.

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