July 19, 2004

The Taking of Life and the Giving of Life

by Linda Anderson Krech

You are lying in a hospital bed. The room is typical, white and metallic, with an inescapable medicinal smell that has become so familiar and so tiring. You breathe mostly through your mouth to avoid the smell and close your eyes to create some privacy, but the pictures that run through your mind are haunting, and the questions that arise are relentless. You are 26 years old and your lungs have hardened like stone. You have been waiting for six months for a new pair of lungs, or rather a used pair of lungs from a stranger for whom lungs are no longer needed.

You try to find a place for your mind to rest, through and around the attachments to the past that are now so fragile, the darkness of the future that is so oppressive, the silence of the moment that leaves you poised in mid-air You try to think about weeping willows and robins' nests, but it is hard to focus. You are profoundly tired, and your mind is tugging and spinning. You wait.

Meanwhile, a 14-year-old girl is being rushed to a hospital. There's been an accident on a church-sponsored ski trip—the injuries are profound, the medical staff is in full swing, the parents are driving more than 350 miles to be by her side. She is put on life supports, her vibrant spirit quieted, her body in repose. She was the shining star of her parents' lives, just moments ago, an amazing child who made friends with the world and showed others how life could be lived. The next afternoon her parents are asked if they would consider donating her organs. They are not inclined to deal with this issue, in such a moment of shock and grief ... until a haunting thought occurs to them. It could have been Meghan who was waiting for a transplant. It could have been Meghan, depending for her life on someone else's tragedy and the compassion of strangers. After holding Meghan in their arms for nine hours, rocking and singing softly to her, Connie and Jim surrender their daughter to the world with a new mission—to keep others alive.

Meghan's organs have saved the lives of five people. Kristin Gabrielson, now 29, left that hospital room and has never felt healthier in her life. With Meghan's lungs, she has been able to resume a full life, and is now a medical secretary, building her life with a special man, Chris Nelson, who was also at death's door several years earlier. In a coma for eight days, expected to die within 24 hours, he instead woke up with Meghan's liver. The couple met at an organ donation symposium and are bonded together in a special way by Meghan and her parents. "Chris and I believe there has to be a reason why we survived and finally came together."

A 64-year-old farmer received Meghan's heart, a 33-year-old New Jersey woman received a kidney, and a 41-year-old Wisconsin man received the other kidney and her pancreas. Connie and Jim Hickerson shone brightly with compassion in their moment of loss, responding to the needs of others in the very moment when they themselves were most in need. They found a way to remember the world, to peek out beyond their own personal tragedy, to rise above the self-absorption that is natural when great pain is present. By doing so they have added elements of love and rebirth to their tragedy, and have set an example of courage, grace and compassion to inspire us all.

Gregg and I are familiar with this story because the Hickersons are part of the Chinese adoption adventure that we undertook almost six years ago. We traveled with Connie and Jim and several other families when we went to China in 1998 to bring back our beloved daughter Chani. Connie and Jim came home from China with Lori, their precious new daughter and their love will live on in her blossoming life.

But Meghan will not be forgotten. Her contribution continues from moment to moment—a breath here, a heartbeat there. While alive, Meghan did not touch me, I did not know her, but through her death she has impacted on my life. Her story has made a difference to me. It is a story that deals with the basics—life and death, the overlap, the difference, the purpose, the challenge.

Thank you, Connie, Jim, Meghan and Lori.

Linda Anderson Krech is a staff member at ToDo Institute.

Posted on July 19, 2004 9:09 PM

I too heard this story on a long time ago while I was pregnant. I decided to name my daughter after this girl. Megan had to do a project in first grade entitled where I got my name. This story is special and this girl is still touching lives years later.

Posted by: Leslie McIntosh on January 15, 2010 12:44 AM

I just recently read the story of Meghan Hickerson in an old (April, 1999) Reader's Digest. I read it while on a bus trip from La Crosse to Milwaukee, just after we had passed Holmen by, as a matter of fact. I cried at the article, both with sadness and joy, and passed it to my friend, who had the same reaction. Having grown up near Holmen and lived in the area my whole life, I decided I wanted to see what happened to Chris and Kristin, two of the five whose lives were saved by Meghan and eventually fell in love, these 10 years later. I have only found the above article and would love to know more. It is such a moving and miraculous story. If you are able to share any updates, I would love to hear more.

Posted by: Mary Lynn Schiltz on June 27, 2009 10:10 AM

To Linda Anderson Krech;

I was drawn the the ToDo Institute's website while doing a search for the words "Thank You". I was looking for renewed inspiration for a project that I have been working on for a little over two years now. It is called the Thank You Letter program, and it is designed to encourage people who have received donated tissue during surgery to express their gratitude to the donor's family for the gift. In July of 2003 the first letter arrived. Since that time, I have received another 45. Each one is forwarded to the organization that provides care to the donor family, and then finally to the donor family themselves. I wish there were more letters, but at least those 46 families received something in return for their graciousness, and 45 people understand what they have been given. Anyway, when I visited your site I was intrigued. I ordered Gregg's book about Naikan and the Thirty Thousand Days journal, and came across the reference to your story "The Taking of Life and the Giving of Life". I want to thank you for your words, an unexpected surprise - perfectly placed - waiting to be found.

Posted by: Cyndie on March 8, 2005 8:12 PM
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