Monday, September 27, 2010


Today is the tenth anniversary of the rebirth of my grandson Robert thanks to the generosity of the donation of a portion of his liver by his uncle, John Monaghan. Rejoice with us as I recap the story for those who haven’t heard it before. To offer congratulations to John and Robert, click “comments” below.

Molly and her family recently returned from the Transplant Games in Madison, Wisconsin. Robert, now a handsome young man of fourteen, competed against transplant survivors from all over the United States, perhaps the world. He was once again a gold medal winner in both tennis and swimming. What I’d really like to give him a gold medal for, however, is being a super great kid. Watching him guide his two little brothers through life, providing just enough excitement, torment, and hugging to make them men is my real delight. He is an excellent student, a wonderful friend, and a joy to be around. He has his Dad’s lanky frame and quick wit, and his mom’s diligent work ethic and an affable nature that both shared in providing.

Robert’s life is the gift of not only his biological parents, but also of his uncle, John, who is married to Molly’s sister, Katie. When Robert was four years old, he became really, really sick, really, really fast. He went from being a toddler with a tummy ache to a dying child on life support in less than a week. On the night before he was to receive his liver transplant, I was certain that if I left his side I might not feel his chubby little hands again till they were cold.

I walked over to the hospital where John was being prepped for surgery, just to touch base with him and let him know that we were praying for his safety. I confess, though, that my heart was still at the hospital with Robert, my first, and only, grandchild at the time. I was certainly much less certain than his mother that Robert was going to survive the surgery.
That was before I got to John’s bedside.

I’ve known John since he was in grade school, a classmate of Molly’s. He was always cute, full of energy, and often in trouble. Now he was married to Molly’s younger sister, Katie. I’m sure some eyebrows were raised when they became engaged, questioning the ability of this rebel to settle down and be a family man. I never really had those thoughts, though, because I knew that he loved Katie. The signs were all there. From the time they met, he drove back and forth to Louisville almost every weekend until she moved back to Memphis. He had fit into our family gatherings and brought me to tears laughing at myself and my family on many occasions.

Now, John and Katie were expecting their first baby in a matter of weeks, and John was lying on a gurney joking with the hospital staff like they were family.

The transplant doctor had told us that he selected John partly for his fit body and robust health, but more for his daring, no-big-deal attitude. John told Dr. Grewal that “the kid will never make it to an Ivy League school without my liver”, and that sealed the deal. Now we were just waiting for the results of blood tests to tell us what diseases John might have dormant in his body that could be potentially fatal to my grandson. When I mulled over his former rather wild lifestyle, I wondered whether he would be cleared.

John’s bloodwork was pristine. He had never had ANY diseases, not even ones that Robert had had at age four. When I left John’s bedside, I went home to the first peaceful night’s sleep I’d had in a week. It was all going to be fine. John had enough vitality to share with Robert, and with all of us.

Robert’s recovery was a textbook case. He was the first child recipient of a portion of an adult living liver in Memphis, and within a couple of days he was up in a rocker, albeit with many, many tubes coming out of his small body, and asking for a sip of Grammy’s iced tea.

John struggled a bit more. After emerging from a hellacious dose of sedation for the long surgery, he began bleeding, and had to undergo a similar experience all over again. Through it all, John’s parents and a very pregnant Katie were right there with him, while the rest of us reveled in the miracle of Robert’s recovery. A few weeks later, John and Katie’s precious baby girl arrived. Other than fussing a bit about some stitches working their way through, John has never seemed to be anything other than gracious and modest about this greatest gift. He is still “Peck’s Bad Boy” at times, teasing and playing with all of us, but he is the most generous person I’ve ever had the privilege of knowing.

I like to hope that I could be as brave as John, but in my heart, I know I would have been too terrified even to offer to undergo the surgery. I kind of secretly thanked my lucky stars that I was too old. John had been a multi-gallon blood donor for many years before he volunteered to be Robert's liver donor, and who knows how many others are out there because of his gift of life. His generosity has influenced many others to sign those driver’s licenses or donor cards in his honor…including me.

Most of the family and many friends gathered to participate in the Liver Foundation’s 5 K. on Saturday. I didn't try to walk the whole 5 K, just enough of it to say I was there. Seeing Robert, now almost as tall as John, standing by his benefactor was a reminder to all of us to Give Life…it’s really worth it. So sign your donor card and be a hero like my hero, John Monaghan.


1 comment:

Clyde C. said...

Goose bumps all over again.

Uncle Jack