Life#039;s second chance a gift

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, June 20, 2007

The story line is a difficult one. It is the nighttime telephone call every parent dreads. It is the nightmare you never want to live. It is tragic, emotional and unnecessary.

A 16-year-old boy and his best friend are together. The friend has taken his grandfather's old gun without permission. It is a .22 caliber pistol with the revolving chamber and it is the center of the night's attention and entertainment. Though not experts at their early age, both boys have had limited experience with firearms.

Several friends are with them. There are no drugs involved. No alcohol. Just boys being boys. Frisky. Promiscuous. Adventuresome. Stupid.

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The gun is loaded. It goes off, a projectile hitting the 16-year-old in the head. It was accidental, but the young boy — a promising athlete, well liked with a quick smile - is mortally wounded. Though there is no chance of recovery, his strong body fights the inevitable. Life, technically, lingers.

As a numb single mother deals with the unexpected shock, someone raises the issue of organ donation. In an already surreal setting, a ticking clock adds to a haunting list of questions, answers and uncertainty. A difficult telephone call to his dad is made. The conversation is quick, intense. Options are weighed, procedures explained, emotions stressed, decisions needed, prayers said.

Move forward, all agree.

A tearfully stressful and final good-bye follows.

Appropriate approval documents are completed as evaluations plot the strategy. Medical teams quickly move into action, harvesting organs that will save or prolong lives of people neither the young boy nor his family have ever met.

Though pleased with their decision and aware of the circumstances, the family's agony of their loss is consuming. The pain is bad, then worse. And comprehension of a few hours of utter horror borders on the indescribable.

Their shockingly grim experience, however, casts muffled senses of joy and relief in places where other telephone calls convey a distinctly different message, where hope, survival and second chances now become possible.

The transfer is swift.

A 34-year-old heavy equipment welder who loves computers and gardening and who wants to get married and start a family of his own gets the young boy's heart.

A 55-year-old man, a former star athlete who longs for life away from an oxygen tank, gets one lung.

A 63-year-old carpenter who likes to fish and find bargains at flea markets gets the other one.

A 57-year-old salesman receives his liver.

A 31-year-old convenience store clerk with diabetes and high blood pressure gets a kidney and pancreas, removing him from a transplant list after three years of waiting.

And an even luckier 43-year-old former backhoe operator is a rare perfect match for the other kidney, increasing even more his chances of a long, healthy life.

Granted, the optimism and elation of the recipients is tempered by knowledge of the tragic event that made their good fortune possible, six grateful men and their families were handed a precious gift because of the generosity, faith and common goodness of a dying young boy, his caring family and their giving, selfless attitude.

Months have passed since that fateful night and all the updates aren't positive. Some of the men are doing well enough to return to a normal lifestyle. Others, for various reasons, did not make it.

The important message today, though, is they got that incredible second chance.

Whether or not you are an organ donor is a personal decision, one hopefully made in a calm setting after whatever evaluation you thought necessary. But if you haven't considered the possibility, it would be time well spent.

Think of the young 16-year-old boy.

Think of his family, who in what was likely the most traumatic day of their lives, chose to honor and memorialize his life by letting him help others.

Think of the men, each of whom was battling to survive, likely on their knees in prayerful appreciation for the most personal of all gifts.

And realize that in the uncertainty of an uncontrollable world, it could be you, it could be me or it could be someone we love in any one of those unthinkable roles.

Ed Darling is president and publisher of Greenville Newspapers LLC. He can be reached at 382-3111 or