Smith: Nicholas Green's parents return to Italy, 25 years after he was killed
Sunday will be a quarter century to the day since a true nightmare occurred as the vacationing Nicholas Green, an unmistakably kind and imaginative 7-year-old from Bodega Bay, slept in the backseat of a car on a darkened highway in southern Italy.
Would-be bandits in a second car tried to force Nicholas’ dad, Reg, to pull over. Fearing for his wife and two children, Reg was accelerating when a gunshot shattered one of the rental car’s rear side windows.
The Greens got away but the lives of Reg and Maggie and their daughter, Eleanor, then 4, struck their lowest point the instant they realized that Nicholas had taken a bullet to the head.
The world was changed days later when, at Maggie Green’s suggestion, she and Reg donated Nicholas’ internal organs and corneas to seven Italians, five of them critically ill.
Throughout heartsick Italy and far beyond, the story and what became known as the Nicholas Effect touched hearts and opened minds to the prospect of registering as a potential donor or being open, in the event of a tragedy, to donating a loved one’s vital organs.
AT THIS MOMENT, Maggie and Reg Green, whose recovery from the shooting of their son on Sept. 29, 1994, included welcoming twins Laura and Martin and moving from Bodega Bay to near Pasadena, prepare to return to Italy.
They’ll arrive on Sunday, the anniversary day. They’ll get ready for a conference on organ donation to begin the following day at the university hospital in Messina at which Nicholas died.
The Greens will meet, once again, some special and especially grateful Italians. One is Maria Pia Pedala, who was 19 the night she received the gift of life from Nicholas and his parents.
“She was on her deathbed that night,” Reg recalled. “She was dying of a hereditary liver disease.”
Pedala received Nicholas’ liver. She fully recovered, became an advocate of organ donation, married and gave birth to a son she and her husband named Nicholas. Reg Green said Pedala’s Nicholas shows no signs of the liver disease that plagued his family prior to the transplant, and he serves in Italy’s navy.
The Greens also will meet at the Messina conference Domenica Galletta, who never saw her daughter until she received one of Nicholas Green’s corneas, and with Francesco Mondello, who was a young dad when he received the Sonoma County boy’s other cornea.
THE PURPOSE of the Greens’ trip to Italy, and of the conference at the hospital at which they 25 years ago made the loving but harrowing decision at the bedside of their mortally wounded son, is simple:
To help keep the Nicholas Effect alive by sustaining the message that humanity can and must do better with the transplanting of organs from people taken away by tragedies such as the one that claimed Nicholas.
“In the U.S. every day 20 people on the waiting list for a transplant die,” said Reg, who following his son’s death dedicated his life to promoting organ donation. He wrote two books on the subject, founded the Nicholas Green Foundation and worked with Jamie Lee Curtis and Alan Bates on the 1998 made-for-TV movie “Nicholas’ Gift.”
“It is heartbreaking to see patients on the waiting list dying, many of them young, some just babies, because of the failure of one organ that could easily be replaced,” Reg said.