Mother Sure Daughter's Organ Given to Boy : Heart Transplant Consoles a Torn Family

Times Staff Writer

A grieving Fullerton family was consoled for a time Wednesday by the hope that their 2-year-old daughter's accidental death might provide life for a Texas boy awaiting a heart transplant at Loma Linda University Medical Center.

On June 8, Allison McClennen was rushed to UCI Medical Center with severe head injuries after a hit-and-run accident on her residential street. Tuesday afternoon, doctors declared the girl's brain dead and disconnected life support systems.

William and Kathy McClennen's nine-day vigil by the bedside of their daughter had been a wrenching experience. But despite their grief, they said they believed the only way to create "something good out of something bad" was to make Allison's organs available for transplant.

"We feel that if Allison had been able to speak for herself, this is what she would have wanted us to do," Kathy McClennen, 33, said.

Early Wednesday, Nicky Carrizales, a 3-year-old San Antonio boy with a degenerative heart disease, received a new heart during a five-hour surgery at Loma Linda University Medical Center.

Dr. Marian Sokol, a spokewoman for Project Any Baby Can, a San Antonio-based support service for children with chronic diseases, said she had learned that the donor heart belonged to a 2-year-old Fullerton child who died from injuries sustained in a hit-and-run traffic accident.

The group had raised funds earlier to send Nicky and his parents to Loma Linda on June 9 to undergo testing in an effort to obtain a heart transplant for the boy.

Sokol said the boy's parents told her that the surgery went well, but that complications occurred shortly afterward. The boy was listed in "extremely critical condition" as a second heart was located and he was prepared for another transplant Wednesday evening.

Neither Loma Linda nor UCI Medical Center would confirm the identity of the donor of the first heart, due to a policy of keeping names of donors and recipients confidential. Nor are the families of donors notified of the recipient's name.

But Kathy McClennen is convinced that the heart Nicky initially received had belonged to her daughter.

"It's hers," she said. "I know it."

Even after learning of Nicky's condition and the preparation for a second replacement heart, the McClennens had no regrets.

"We're not sorry we did it," Kathy McClennen said. "We had to try." Some of Allison's other organs may also be accepted for transplant.

Earlier Wednesday, before word of the heart's malfunction, McClennen said the possibility that her daughter's heart might save another child made the tragedy easier to bear.

"It's a big comfort to know that some part of her (could be) living in someone else and could help someone else have a happy life," she said.

McClennen was only yards away from her child on the Sunday afternoon when Allison darted across the street to join her father and 6-year-old brother Scott, according to police. Before her mother could react, the blond, blue-eyed child turned to run back.

A car described by police as a beige two-door Honda Civic or Accord drove down the street at about 35 m.p.h., 10 miles over the speed limit. Police believe the driver was a dark-haired woman between 18 and 25.

"I think it was a situation where the mother felt, 'Surely this person sees my daughter,' " said Fullerton Police Sgt. Rex Stricklin.

Instead, the car never slowed down.

"She is a typical 2-year-old and they get away very quickly," Kathy McClennen said, her voice breaking. "Anyone who has had children knows that. I was not able to retrieve her, and she was struck by a car."

The fact that the driver failed to stop has been a source of tremendous pain to the McClennens.

"I was stunned with disbelief that she never hit her brakes and she would not stop," said Kathy McClennen, who is a corporate project manager for a La Mirada-based restaurant chain.

"That they could hit (Allison) and feel the impact of something that weighed 25 pounds . . . and put their foot on the gas and keep going is inconceivable. I have a difficult time with the fact that after nine or 10 days, someone is still walking around with that on their conscience."

Stayed at Hospital

William McClennen, 35, a sales representative for an auto financing firm, spent all nine days and nights at the hospital.

Said Kathy McClennen: "It was very, very hard to go home and see where it happened out in front. And the house was so empty without her."

Midway through the ordeal, the family decorated the tree in front of the house with yellow ribbons--"for hope," William McClennen said.

The McClennens said their decision to offer Allison's organs for transplant provided some consolation. It is also part of a trend noted and welcomed by the Regional Organ Procurement Agency at UCLA.

Although organ shortages still exist, the number donated in Southern California has increased since Jan. 1, when new legislation took effect encouraging more organ donations, according to Rich Elbaum, a UCLA spokesman.

The measure, AB 631, sponsored by Assemblyman William Leonard (R-Redlands), requires that acute-care hospitals set up guidelines for identifying potential organ donors.

Kathy McClennen said she and her husband have carried organ donor cards on the backs of their driver's licenses for several years.

"This is a philosophical thing we have held for a long time," she said. "And it leaves the survivors with a sense of confidence that although what happened was terrible, in a sense some good still comes out of something bad.

'A Lot of Time'

"We had a lot of time to prepare ourselves for this. In the last 48 hours, it became obvious that the doctors had done everything humanly possible for her. I think it was always in the back of our minds that this was what we should do," she said.

"There's really nothing noble about it. We just felt it would be a terrible waste if we didn't let her organs help another child."

Times staff writer Louis Sahagun contributed to this story.

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