Please welcome Paul Menn to the 8th spot. He will be taking Nard Choi’s place permanently. Thanks, Nard, for your work. Welcome, Paul!
I never knew my Uncle Greg. As a kid growing up, I would hear his name spoken, most often at my grandparents’ house around the holidays, but I never met him because he died at a young age. I knew some of the basic facts regarding his passing, but it wasn’t until a year ago that I got together with my mom and really found out what happened.
It started with a headache.
In 1969, my grandparents and their two teenage sons, my dad and Uncle Greg, were vacationing in Italy over the Christmas holiday. My grandparents loved travelling and thought it was important for them to see the world. After three days in Rome, they rented a car and drove to Naples. They took a day trip to nearby Pompeii where they hired Franco Di Rosa as a guide to the city.
It was there when Greg complained that he had never had such a terrible headache. Fifteen minutes later, he fell unconscious. He was quickly driven to a nearby hospital where they at first thought it was just severe food poisoning. It quickly became apparent that it was something much more serious, and he was transferred to the more sophisticated hospital in Naples.
Greg had suffered a cerebral hemorrhage.
He was essentially brain dead, being kept alive by machines. Doctors said it was only a matter of hours or even minutes. My grandparents and dad stayed by his side, praying for a miracle. And at 2 a.m., when my grandpa gently scraped Greg’s arms and feet with his fingernails, there was sign of muscle reflex.
The doctors knew that people could sometimes recover from situations like this, so they ran some tests. At first it looked promising, but each test became weaker and weaker until…nothing. At 9 a.m., the EEG showed no brain activity. My grandparents asked the doctors to check two more times. Same result.
It was at this point that my grandparents made possibly the hardest decision of their lives—they chose to take their son off life support. The doctors did so, and later that die, Greg passed away at the age of 16.
But after Greg passed, something truly remarkable happened. My grandpa made a request that was shocking to the doctors—he wanted to donate his son’s organs to those who needed them. At that time, Italy lagged behind the rest of the Western world in terms of organ donations, and to a have a foreign tourist donate the organs of the child he had just tragically lost was simply unheard of.
But my grandpa was firm in his request because he knew it is what Greg would have wanted. Only six months earlier, Greg had talked to my Grandpa after hearing a sermon at church, and Greg had been very clear that if anything should ever happen to him, he wanted to do what he could even in death to help others by donating his healthy organs to those who needed them.
And that’s exactly what happened. The doctors were able to transplant his corneas and his kidneys to four people in need. Greg’s corneas went to two teenagers in Naples—Giuseppe Piazza and Antonio Polizzi. His kidneys went to Vencenzo Benvenuti and Mrs. Giuseppe Culiersi, in Rome. All four recovered with no complications after the transplants. When my grandparents and dad left their hotel to fly back to Wisconsin, the doorman hugged them all with tears in his eyes. The word of what had happened had spread all over Rome and Napes.
Beyond touching the lives of four strangers, my Uncle Greg’s passing helped change all of Italy in a small way. Although he had other organs healthy enough to be transplanted, Italian law did not allow for the transplant of certain organs. A month after Greg’s death, the Italian government passed a law permitting the transplant of lungs and hearts.
I struggle with how to end this post, so I simply quote the words of the surgeon whose team performed the kidney transplants:
“The most important thing about this case is not the transplant of kidneys and corneas, which is routine, but the act of high human solidarity of Mr. Menn. He felt the duty to bring help to a few sufferers and thus make something of this boy live on, according to a modern interpretation of the Latin saying, ‘Nemo Sibi Nascitur’—No one is born alone.”
Paul (’10) lives in Grand Rapids with his wife, Emma (’10), and cat, HandsomeMarcoCat. He loves board games, Babylon 5, and honey-curry chicken. Everything else is negotiable.