A Life Everlasting: The Extraordinary Story of One Boy's Gift to Medical Science by Sarah Gray
A LIFE EVERLASTING is the story of Thomas Ethan Gray. Thomas only lived for a few days, but he had--and continues to have--an impact in helping medical researchers around the world.
Thomas' story begins in a doctor's office, with the physician giving the expectant mother the bad news: “I’m sorry to tell you that Baby A has a lethal birth defect.” Of the twins, one baby would be fine; the other twin, "Baby A," would not survive for long after birth. For reasons unknown, Baby A, who would be named, "Thomas," had developed anencephaly, a lethal condition. He might not even survive birth.
Of course, the news was devastating to the family, and especially to Sarah: "Giving birth to one healthy baby and one dead baby seemed like a sick joke.. What did I ever do to deserve this?" Nevertheless, Sarah eventually adjusted to the tragic news, and decided to do something positive--something that would create something good out of a tragic circumstance: "I decided that if Thomas’s death was inevitable, at least it could be productive. If our suffering helped mitigate the future suffering of just one other parent, then that was better than nothing."
Thomas did not die immediately after birth, but did pass just a few days after. As the family planned, his organs were made available to different research organizations. The story of Thomas didn't stop there, however. Sarah decided to do something unique--she decided to track down what happened to Thomas' organs. She wanted to see how they arrived, where they went, and how they were used.
Not sure of what her response would be, Sarah began calling the labs, explaining that her son had donated organs for their research. At the labs, the author was met with surprised, but kindly people who appreciated what her son had done. Perhaps the most poignant encounter was when Sarah met the scientist who had used parts of Thomas' eyes in important research. Here, Sarah learned something surprising about Thomas' donation. It turned out that her son's organs were "much more valuable than I had even dared imagine. . . His donation exposed me to a world of scientific and medical advancements I would not have even imagined before."
One researcher explained to Sarah how valuable Thomas' eyes were: "Infant eyes are like gold to us.” Another scientist echoed the same thing about his retinas: "It had been the first healthy infant retina sample her lab had ever received, and it was vital to her work." Thomas' retinas were used in researching deadly cancer that affected young children.
The author later received a wonderful gift. Thomas' corneas had been used in a research study, and the authors sent her a copy of the study.
Through her journey, Sarah found new meaning in the brief life of her son. Thomas' life was more than just a few short days: "He has a job. He has coworkers. He has colleagues. He is a partner in their research, and relevant in this community. . . Maybe, thanks at least in part to him, babies of the future wouldn’t suffer from the awful affliction that took his own life. I was so proud of my son."
I found A LIFE EVERLASTING to be a wonderful book, and a cherished tribute to this little soul who lived such a short life, but continues to help so many. Here is how Thomas' mother sums it up:
"My son Thomas Ethan Gray donated his eyes, liver, and cord blood to medical research; in his short but treasured life, he contributed to the advancement of modern medicine. I only hope my life can be as relevant."
Amen to that.