D.c. Mother Turns Grief And Loss To Generosity And Hope (Transcript) | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

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D.C. Mother Turns Grief and Loss to Generosity and Hope

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:11
I'm Rebecca Sheir and welcome back to "Metro Connection." Today our theme is Follow-ups, as we bring you a second chapter of sorts from some of the stories we've covered over the past year. When the story we'll revisit next aired back in February, it clearly struck a chord, judging by all the emails, tweets and messages we received from listeners afterward. It was by Emily Berman and she introduced us to a woman named Sarah Gray. Sarah was 12 weeks pregnant when she found out she'd be having twins.

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:35
And it was at that same appointment that she found out one of the twins had a lethal birth defect called anencephaly. That's Greek for without a brain. Sarah decided to donate her son's organs to scientific research, and Emily, who, again, brought us the original story, is here with us now to bring us up to date on what's happened since.

MS. EMILY BERMAN

00:00:52
That's right.

SHEIR

00:00:53
Hi, Emily.

BERMAN

00:00:54
Hey, Rebecca. So I chose to follow up on this story because it went in a really surprising direction. If you remember, Sarah Gray went on a business trip to Boston and stopped by the lab where her son's eyes were being studied. She went on a tour and one of the lab staffers brought her over to meet one of the scientists working on that research, Dr. James Zieske.

MS. SARAH GRAY

00:01:15
And I remember he was just sort of eating his lunch at his desk. And she brought me over and he looked up and she said, you know this is Sarah Gray and her son was a donor here. And he just sort of looked at me like, oh, my gosh.

BERMAN

00:01:27
Gray described meeting Dr. Zieske as this moment when she knew her son was okay and she could begin to let go of her grief. And Gray and I have stayed in touch. So I know that not long after the story aired, she started working at The American Association of Tissue Banks, and decided to write her master's thesis on why people choose to donate kidneys to strangers. Then, in August, I got this email.

BERMAN

00:01:54
It says, "Hi, Emily. How are you? I just wanted to follow up with you. I’m going through the process to donate my kidney to Dr. Zieske, the researcher at Harvard who received the donation of my infant son's eyes." And so I read that and I was like, this story is not over.

SHEIR

00:02:11
Clearly not.

BERMAN

00:02:11
So what I did, was I gave her some recording equipment to document what happened next.

SHEIR

00:02:16
And, well, what did happen next? I mean, correct me if I'm wrong, but here she is donating a kidney to the guy who's using her son's eyes for his scientific research. I mean she barely knows this guy.

BERMAN

00:02:25
Right. Well, I mean, she met him one time. But, like I said, she just finished a thesis on why people make this exact decision. And in her case she knows his guy better than a lot of people who donate kidneys. So she underwent the preliminary testing here in D.C. -- a blood test, urine test to make sure her kidney function was decent. Then she headed to Boston for the final screenings to make sure she was a match.

GRAY

00:02:50
We got on the plane. We flew to Boston. We took the T to the hotel near Fenway.

BERMAN

00:02:58
Her first appointment was with a nephrologist, or kidney doctor.

GRAY

00:03:01
So they asked me about my relationship with Dr. Zieske and I explained the connection with my son, about how he's the researcher that received my son's eyes. The nephrologist seemed a little concerned and she said, you know you're doing this for a psychological benefit that you may never realize. We can get close to predicting the best possible surgery for you, but we can't predict what's going to happen if the recipient never speaks to you again or never says thank you.

BERMAN

00:03:28
They also really wanted to know if she had traveled to any jungles or tropical locales lately, which she had not.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1

00:03:34
Okay. I'm comfortable having you move on through the process.

BERMAN

00:03:36
And she passed onto the next test. Next, she got a CAT scan to spot any abnormalities in her kidneys.

GRAY

00:03:44
I'm getting -- I think it's iodine contrast injected so that they can see if I have one or two kidneys and also take a look at the blood vessels and make sure that the ones that they need are long enough. So far so good.

BERMAN

00:03:58
And spent the afternoon taking her husband and son Callum to Schepens Eye Research Institute at Harvard, the lab where Dr. Zieske works. She wanted her family to meet him, and to spend a little time together.

SHEIR

00:04:11
Since, you know, she'd be potentially donating one of her organs to him.

BERMAN

00:04:13
Right. And during their meeting, Sarah found out that Zieske's wife, three of his nephews and a friend have all offered one of their kidneys, but none were good matches for one reason or another.

GRAY

00:04:26
I know that me coming forward to be a possible donor for him was unusual. And I wasn't sure how he really felt about it. Like if he thought that I was like a nice person or if I was a strange person or what.

BERMAN

00:04:42
So she asked him.

DR. JAMES ZIESKE

00:04:43
I tell people about how we met. And I usually start off by saying this is really the most bizarre way of meeting a potential donor that I can think of.

BERMAN

00:04:57
Zieske has had kidney issues for 10 years, and was put on dialysis, well, the very day she came to visit him for the first time.

ZIESKE

00:05:06
Yeah, I had had an appointment that morning. There was a lot of emotion going on that day.

BERMAN

00:05:12
So when Sarah offered to go through all the testing, it seemed like it could be meant to be.

ZIESKE

00:05:19
I mean, my wife totally believes in angels. And I can't possible say I think she's wrong.

SHEIR

00:05:26
So what about the results of the CAT scan? Did she hear back?

BERMAN

00:05:29
The next day Sarah went back to the hospital to get her results.

GRAY

00:05:32
I talked to the transplant surgeon who pointed out some things in my CAT scan that disqualified me from donation.

SHEIR

00:05:41
Wait. Did she say disqualified?

BERMAN

00:05:43
Yeah, she actually cannot donate her kidney. The imaging showed stones in her left kidney and that the veins in her right kidney weren't long enough. And they didn't want to leave her with a kidney that makes stones and they didn't want to give Dr. Zieske that kidney either. So the surgeon did not recommend going through with the operation.

SHEIR

00:06:02
So it's over.

BERMAN

00:06:03
It's over. And she's disappointed. But, in a way, she says she achieved her goal.

GRAY

00:06:09
When my son died it was such a sad time that I wanted to give hope to someone during a really bad time in their life. And I'm glad I tried. I feel like I really did give it my all. I was going to do this. And I do feel like I gave Dr. Zieske hope.

BERMAN

00:06:32
Even though it didn't work out, she says she hopes it sends a message not just to Dr. Zieske, but to anyone who needs a big karmic favor from the universe, that, you know what, it just might happen.

SHEIR

00:06:44
And who knows, maybe Dr. Zieske's donor is out there right now listening to this story.

BERMAN

00:06:49
Exactly. You never know.

SHEIR

00:06:50
Well, Emily Berman, thank you so much for bringing us up to date on Sarah Gray.

BERMAN

00:06:55
My pleasure.

SHEIR

00:06:56
If you want to find out if you might be a match for Dr. Zieske, we have a link up on our website. And for more information on kidney donation here in the D.C. area, we have links for that, as well. Just check out metroconnection.org.
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