In a small restaurant in Rome a year or so ago our table was next to that of a singularly beautiful woman, vaguely familiar. “She’s a television personality,” my friend, Andrea, told me, “and is sensitive to human issues.” It was Alessia Marcuzzi, whose slightest movement sends the pulse of every red-blooded Italian man racing and, I’d guess, most anemics too.
Well, I am sensitive to human issues too, particularly when they come in such an attractive package so, when we got up to leave, I excused myself for interrupting her talk with her companion and introduced myself as Nicholas Green’s father. Seven-year old Nicholas was killed in an attempted carjacking more than twenty years earlier and his organs and corneas donated to seven Italians but I was sure she would remember. I don’t think I have ever met an Italian who was a teenager or older at the time who didn’t remember. In any event, she did, said some kind things and we left.
That same night she put an item about our meeting on her Facebook page. On average a thousand readers, who want to feel part of her glamorous life, let her know they ‘like’ what she has written. In this case, the number was 30,000. Seven hundred of them felt so strongly that they sent in a comment, most of them expressing passionate support for organ donation, and 1,600 thought the story was worth putting on their own Facebooks, reaching hundreds of thousands more, the great majority of whom have rarely if ever thought seriously about what a transplant means.
Voglio raccontarvi quello che mi e' successo e condividere con voi una grande emozione. Ero in un ristorante con mio...Posted by Alessia Marcuzzi on Sunday, October 12, 2014
Alessia Marcuzzi's post on Facebook after meeting Nicholas' father, Reg Green.
So, yes, it’s true, organ donation is normally too distant a subject to be of much interest to the bulk of the population. Trying to persuade them to think about it in advance is exhausting work. Time and again, however, I have seen that once people feel a personal connection or see a sympathetic human face in it, organ donation stops being remote and impersonal and instead becomes riveting. How could it be otherwise? For one thing it’s universal: any one of us, however healthy, could need a transplant at any time and virtually every one of us could donate organs or tissue. Second, it’s a matter of life and death, with the fate of multiple families dependent on the outcome of a single decision. Third, it leaps every boundary: white men are walking around with black men’s hearts inside them and vice versa, Hispanics are breathing through Chinese lungs and vice versa and (dare I say it?) Democrats see the world through Republican corneas – and vice versa.
What a lesson for us that, despite the bickering, what divides us as people is trifling compared with what we have in common. Add in that transplantation is also a fulfillment of mankind’s most fundamental dream -- life coming out of death – and it is hard to see how stories of organ donation can be anything other than spellbinding. So, our task is not so much to persuade as to correct misconceptions and reveal to people how those deep emotions can be channeled into ways of helping other people that they have never seriously considered.