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

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Sarah Gray introduces her son Callum and husband, Ross, to her potential kidney recipient Dr. James Zieske.
Emily Berman/WAMU
Sarah Gray introduces her son Callum and husband, Ross, to her potential kidney recipient Dr. James Zieske.
A CT scan of Sarah Gray's kidneys.

Back in February, we reported on the story of a local woman named Sarah Gray. Sarah was 12 weeks pregnant when she found out she'd be having twins. And it was at that same appointment she found out one 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 since then, her story has turned in a 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. And she met one of the scientists working on that research: Dr. James Zieske.

Not long after the story aired, Gray started working at The American Association of Tissue Banks, and decided to write her masters thesis on why people choose to donate kidneys to strangers. Then, in August, she sent us an email explaining that she was going through the process to donate a kidney to Dr. Zieske, the researcher at Harvard who received the donation of my infant son's eyes.

She underwent the preliminary testing here in D.C. — a blood test and 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.

There, she met with a nephrologist, got a CAT scan to spot any abnormalities in her kidneys, and spent an 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.

"This is the most bizarre way of meeting a potential donor that I can think of," says Zieske. He's had kidney issues for 10 years, and was told he'd be put on dialysis, the very day she came to visit him for the first time.

"My wife totally believes in angels. and I can't possible say I think she's wrong," he says.

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