In the past two decades, La Cañada resident Reg Green has gotten really comfortable with the word “yes.”
He’s become a spokesman for organ donation after the 1994 death of his 7-year-old son, Nicholas, during a family vacation in Italy led to a decision to donate the youngster’s healthy organs. The gift saved the lives of five people.
That tragic event spawned international interest in Nicholas’ story. Resulting from that have been hundreds of interviews, articles and events related to Nicholas and the larger issue of donation. The Nicholas Cup, part of the Winter World Transplant Games, was held in Haute-Savioe, France, in January.
And it’s all because Reg Green made a decision long ago to never let the fire of his son’s legacy go out.
Now the cause has spread to Russia, where two filmmakers hope to use the Green family’s story to inspire a nation in which organ donation has yet to gain a significant foothold.
Green has received thousands of letters and emails from people across the globe who were touched and want to know more. Some saw the 1998 TV movie, “Nicholas’ Gift,” starring Jamie Lee Curtis. Others were inspired by Reg Green’s books, “The Nicholas Effect” and “The Gift that Heals,” and come seeking interviews for an article, film or TV show.
“I always say yes,” Reg Green says. “I made the decision if someone is going to bare their soul, you can’t ignore them, and you cannot send them a form letter.”
And so, on Super Bowl Sunday, while others geared up for game day, the Greens entertained Russian TV producer Olga Drozdova and cameraman Mikhail Kliuev, who’d flown from St. Petersburg to film a documentary they plan to make on organ donation.
“It is a very complicated topic for our country,” Drozdova wrote in her first email to Reg Green. “Despite all the medical opportunities, the number of organ transplantation operations in Russia is extremely small. The story of Nicholas Green and his family is almost unknown in Russia, so I would like to tell it to the Russian audience.”
Filming inside and outside the Greens’ home, Drozdova gently instructs Reg and his wife, Maggie, in broken English, to look at photos of Nicholas or to talk to one another on the living room sofa.
As they do, Kliuev zooms in and pans out on the couple, repositioning his camera every few minutes to capture the best angle. During a scene change, Green confesses his family has done this numerous times, reliving and revisiting the tragedy each time.
“After 20 years, that’s the story I tell. I play one note over and over and over again,” he says. “I call it my life’s work. I never expected it would go on as long as this.”
The Greens decide from time to time that a particular year will be the last, but still continue attending events, speaking and granting interviews. Why? It’s a bit of a numbers game.
According to the online organ donation network Donate Life, the average donor saves eight lives and has the potential, through tissue and cornea donation, to impact as many as 50 others.
Meanwhile, in the U.S., a new name goes on the list of people waiting for a vital organ every 10 minutes. The list is about 120,000 names long, and 18 people die every day waiting.
After Nicholas’ death, and the resultant media storm, Green says organ donations in Italy rose from about 3% to 20%. The family has kept in touch with many of the recipients of Nicholas’ organs, and has received letters from people who decided to donate after hearing their story. They guess thousands of lives have been impacted.
“If you think about it (donation) is a brand-new miracle,” Maggie Green says. “It needs faces. It needs stories.”
So the Green family continues to fan the flames of interest, from La Cañada to St. Petersburg, from Italy to France — it’s a decision they make anew each and every day.
“I don’t believe in fate,” Reg Green says, thinking back on the past 20 years. “I think that within us all we have the capacity of reaching up or leaning down. It’s that simple.”