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March 30, 2010

Who knows the meaning of loss and connections, why a young woman suddenly dies and a man is suddenly made healthy?

In this photo taken outside a Maverick helicopter, two twins, Dolores and Katherine, celebrated their 50th birthday. After they landed, following a helicopter tour over the Grand Canyon, they both gestured with their hands to the photographer, signaling the number 50.

            Eight months later, Dolores, the lady on the left, was set to take her daily train from Greenwich, Connecticut to Wall Street where she worked. Dolores, who had been in perfect health, waited for her morning train and suddenly, before the train arrived, felt a horrible headache, which turned out to be a brain aneurysm. A brain aneurysm is a weak bulging spot on the wall of a brain artery very much like a thin balloon or weak spot on an inner tube which forms silently from wear and tear on the arteries. 6 million people yearly in the United States have unruptured brain aneurysms and around 25,000 of those rupture. And 40% of people who have ruptured brain aneurysms die as a result.

On the morning of February 5th, Dolores didn’t know she had a brain aneurysm. The next day at 5:30 p.m., Dolores was pronounced dead.

            An hour later, Harry, the inside salesperson at our Pittsburgh branch, was called. He was told he could receive a new, healthy kidney if he acted quickly and could come to the hospital within a few hours. He had been on dialysis for many months after his kidneys had failed, first on hemodialsis and then, months later, peritoneal dialysis. Before peritoneal dialysis, he had been unable to work for a long time and was extremely nauseous and lethargic. While on dialysis, he was put on a kidney transplant list, hoping to eventually find a kidney match. About 15,000 kidney transplants per year are done in the United States. Harry was hoping to be one of those.

             Our company had just changed health insurance plans in Pittsburgh in January, 2009, from Highmark Blue Cross to Aetna. All the paperwork had been submitted detailing the possible kidney transplant and the letter of authorization that Aetna would cover it arrived a few days before the call about the sudden donor match. Within twenty-four hours after getting the phone call, Harry had successful kidney transplant surgery. They placed the good kidney on his right front side near the pelvic area and didn’t remove his two diseased kidneys. His creatinine level during the first month stabilized and over the next six months, continued to improve. He went back to work part time at first and later, full time.  

             A few months later, Dolores’ family sent Harry a three page detailed letter with pictures about his kidney donor. Dolores had never been married but was in the later-stage process of adopting a little girl from Russia. She was due to officially adopt the girl on February 9th but died three days earlier.

Dolores, who was very educated and a world traveler, was one of five sisters including Katherine, her twin, as well as Mary, Beth, and Trisha. The sisters kept in touch with Harry for the last seven months and have grown very close to him, “almost like lost relatives,” according to him. He says he is so grateful for Dolores and her family and writes, “I feel communicating may give them a little comfort, knowing that their sister’s gift is doing somebody good…We all feel very close; they refer to me as the brother they never had.” The sisters’ father, who is deceased, was also named Harry and they “agree that it’s nice to have another Harry in the family.”

              Harry is married to Sandy and the father of two twin adopted boys, Andy and Tom. Tom is also the name of two of the sons of Dolores’ sisters. And the little girl from Russia who Dolores was planning to adopt? Her sister, Beth, over a year later, adopted this same little girl whose name is Aziza. Sister Trisha wrote to Harry, “Actually you're timing is perfect as always (just like Dolores' was!)  I am right now in NJ watching Beth's kids and she and her husband Tom are flying back from Russia this evening with Aziza. Kathy was there last week with them (they've been there 2 times in the past month!) and we are all going to Newark airport tonight to meet them!  We will take pictures of Aziza's entrance to the U.S./her new family and will send you these as well as photos of Russia that Kathy has taken — she's an amazing photographer.”

            Harry told me that last year, he decided on a whim to go to Ocean City, New Jersey for a family vacation and stay at the Port-O-Call Hotel and started having cravings for French fries with Hellman’s Mayonaise, instead of his usual catsup. When he found out in a random discussion with Dolores’ sisters that French fries with Hellman’s Mayonaise was Dolores’ favorite snack and that her family went to Ocean City’s Port-O-Call every year, he was stunned. He wonders about cellular memory, if the genes of Dolores are somehow calling to him. I wonder if Dolores and her father are making sure that the sisters have a new brother and that Harry, who has two brothers, now has sisters. Both families have become incredibly close.

            Who knows the meaning of loss and connections, why a young woman suddenly dies and a man is suddenly made healthy? I think back to when I found out my best friend from sixth grade, Lewis Stone, died suddenly at night from a ruptured brain aneurysm. I instinctively felt then and still feel now that my life somehow was changed that day.

 Who knows why people die so suddenly? Was Dolores’ father, Harry, involved from the afterlife in any of the life-and-death connections of his daughter? Have they made sure Aziza was adopted, even after Dolores’ death? Or was it all just coincidence, fate, or luck? One can only hope that Dolores is still a world traveler in the afterlife and that she has played a role in finding Harry for her sisters and helping her sister, Beth, adopt Aziza.

            Who knows? I stare at the photo of a young woman, so happy with her twin sister, on her 50th birthday, and wonder what was hidden in the back of her mind. She never could have imagined that eight months later, her life would be suddenly taken from her.

She could have never known then that within a year, she would end her life a hero, saving more than she would ever know.

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