A Donor Mother Views DonationRecently, during the same...


April 24, 1992

A Donor Mother Views Donation

Recently, during the same week Hayes Johnson's April 10 column about organ donation appeared, a letter crossed my desk. It was written by Rita Bailey who, a year ago, experienced a mother's worst nightmare when someone from her daughter's school called to say that "Melisa had fallen and an ambulance had been dispatched."

One moment an apparently healthy 10-year-old was climbing monkey bars in the school playground; the next she was stricken with a terrible headache and fell from the top of an eight-foot slide. Within days, this bright and beautiful child was dead of a massive stroke caused by a congenital heart malformation.

Dead, but maintained on life support, so her family could donate her corneas, tissues and organs.

Melisa was the soul of generosity, her mother says. "They say angels walk on earth and I believe I have been blessed to know one. In death, through donation, she was still that giving person."

Every day, as executive director of the Medical Eye Bank of Maryland, I see first-hand the benefits of donation. There is no simple truth to this issue, but an obvious one is that people who were blind can now see because of corneal donation. People hovering at the edge of death are rescued by tissue and organ donations.

Another truth is that donors and their families are regarded with the utmost esteem and gratitude by all of us who work in the transplant community. I grieve along with donor families. I can also offer them the knowledge that the corneas they donate will change someone's life. I can assure them that the removal of these corneas -- as is the case with the recovery of organs and other tissue -- is accomplished with as much care and respect as is accorded any living patient.

Rita Bailey, like most donor family members, was informed of the destiny of her child's donations. Her corneas went to one man and one woman in the prime of their lives; her liver to a gravely ill 60-year-old woman; one kidney and pancreas to a 30-year-old woman; another to a woman with young children; heart valves to a medical center, where they would be used for valve replacement in children. She was not given the names of these recipients as Hayes Johnson's mother was not given the names of the recipients of his sister's donations.

This is not cruelty, as he suggests, but a compassionate gesture to the recipients, who need to live with their new corneas, tissues and organs integrated into their own identity. It is also an act of compassion for the donor families who, as they deal with their sorrow, must also go on with their lives. In fact, most eye, tissue and organ banks will transmit general information about recipients and sometimes poignant thank-you notes from recipient to donor, respecting the privacy of both.

Rita Bailey, the donor mother, tells recipients of her daughter's .. gifts: "There are no strings attached, no conditions. You don't have to lead a sainted life, just do this life justice. . . . Be grateful, but don't dwell on us. We give this gift to you."

This is National Eye, Tissue and Organ Donor Awareness Week. It is not an accident that this commemoration is celebrated in spring, around Easter. In a season that glorifies life renewed, it is fitting to remember all of those who donated so that others could live full lives and to celebrate those new lives. Hayes Johnson has my deepest sympathies on the loss of his sister. I pray that one day he will feel a measure of consolation. I also hope he will recognize the enormous significance of his generous act.

Rita Bailey might be sending her message directly to him: "There is nothing fair or just about the death of our beautiful daughter, but there is justice in helping others. As our family creates a new beginning from this end, we find a great deal of comfort in knowing the magnitude of Melisa's gifts to others."

Patricia A. Murphy


Wigler Missed It

The article by Stephen Wigler criticizing the wonderful performance of Beethoven's Fourth Piano Concerto by the Peabody Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Leon Fleisher with pianist Brian Ganz on April 7 greatly offended me, my husband and our friends.

We are all music lovers and have been concert goers our entire lives. "Superb" would be our adjective for both orchestra and soloist. In fact, none of us have ever heard such a sensitive -- not to mention virtuoso -- performance of the Beethoven before.

Contrary to Mr. Wigler's opinion, we felt that both soloist and orchestra were remarkably in synch. Mr. Ganz' performance was outstanding in every way. He played with great feeling and any nuance he cared to achieve was literally at his finger tips. The audience seemed to feel that way too and the performance was greeted with great enthusiasm.

Mr. Wigler's criticism makes us wonder if, indeed, we attended the same concert.

Nancy H. Hirsche


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