Norwegian Family Turns Tragedy Into Gift of Life


Hilde Kvant rushed to the United States when she got word that her brother had suffered a brain aneurysm while visiting this country. By the time she arrived from Norway, Bjorn Ove Grandum was brain dead and on life support.

Rather than just making arrangements for a melancholy return to Norway, Kvant and her husband, Ivar, did something unusual--they donated Grandum’s organs to Americans.

“It’s not unheard of to have foreign nationals become donors in the United States, but it’s rare,” said Joel Newman, a spokesman for the United Network for Organ Sharing in Richmond, Va.

The Kvants, weary and grieving, agreed to an airport interview with Associated Press recently before returning home in Bergen, Norway.

“We’re doing this to get others to think about donation,” Ivar Kvant said.


“We don’t need to know who he’s helping,” Kvant said. “It’s important to know his death isn’t for nothing--that people are helped with this donation.”

By donating Grandum’s heart, heart valves, kidneys, lungs, pancreas and liver, the Kvants were able to help half a dozen Puget Sound people and their families, said Tamila Timm, procurement coordinator at LifeCenter Northwest, the organ donation center for Washington, Alaska, northern Idaho and Montana.

There are a number of reasons why such donations are rare.

For one thing, few people die while on vacation. The age and health of the deceased and the manner of death also can rule out donation. In other cases, families may raise cultural or religious objections.

But a donation can have a memorable effect when made in another country.

The best-known example of international organ donation occurred in 1994 after bandits shot and killed a 7-year-old California boy, Nicholas Green, during his family’s vacation in southern Italy.

Italians were stunned by his family’s decision to donate his organs, an act that saved seven people in Italy and inspired a surge of organ donations in a country where the practice remains unusual.

Norway has no organ donation program. In Japan, transplants are virtually nonexistent.

The country does not legally recognize brain death. Death is considered to occur after a patient’s heart stops beating, but at that point internal organs deteriorate quickly and become unsuitable for transplant.

Eight-year-old Miyuki Monobe of Tokyo came to UCLA Medical Center in California recently in search of a new heart. She died before a suitable donor organ could be found.

The United Network for Organ Sharing doesn’t keep specific records on the number of international donations, Newman said. But even the number of domestic donations is small. Of the more than 2 million deaths in the United States each year, organs might be feasibly donated in only 15,000 to 20,000 cases. Of those candidates, organs from only 5,400 deceased Americans are donated to others.

Grandum, 32, was always busy, his sister said. He had worked day and night to save for his trip to the United States. An Oslo taxi driver, he had two children.

“He was very fond of traveling. He really enjoyed life,” Kvant said.

Grandum planned to drive from Seattle north to British Columbia to visit relatives. He never got out of town, collapsing in his hotel room April 13.

Grandum telephoned his sister from Harborview Medical Center to tell her what was happening. It was their last conversation. When she and her husband got to Seattle on April 15, machinery was keeping Grandum alive.

Although their native country had no donation program, the Kvants knew what it was like for those who wait for organs.

They endured an agonizing wait for a liver for Ivar’s gravely ill 2-year-old niece in England. The toddler suffered a heart attack and subsequent brain damage while waiting for a donor organ.

As a result, the family had talked about organ donation before, and Kvant knew they were making the right decision for her brother.

Still, she said, “It’s hard to think about this when you just have lost someone.”