A donor mother’s powerful memoir of grief and rebirth that is also a fascinating medical science whodunit, taking us inside the world of organ, eye, tissue, and blood donation and cutting-edge scientific research.
When Sarah Gray received the devastating news that her unborn son Thomas was diagnosed with anencephaly, a terminal condition, she decided she wanted his death—and life—to have meaning. In the weeks before she gave birth to her twin sons in 2010, she arranged to donate Thomas’s organs. Due to his low birth weight, they would go to research rather than transplant. As transplant donors have the opportunity to meet recipients, Sarah wanted to know how Thomas's donation would be used.
That curiosity fueled a scientific odyssey that leads Sarah to some of the most prestigious scientific facilities in the country, including Harvard, Duke, and the University of Pennsylvania. Pulling back the curtain of protocol and confidentiality, she introduces the researchers who received Thomas’s donations, held his liver in their hands, studied his cells under the microscope.
Sarah’s journey to find solace and understanding takes her beyond her son’s donations—offering a breathtaking overview of the world of medical research and the valiant scientists on the horizon of discovery. She goes behind the scenes at organ procurement organizations, introducing skilled technicians for whom death means saving lives, empathetic counselors, and the brilliant minds who are finding surprising and inventive ways to treat and cure disease through these donations. She also shares the moving stories of other donor families.
A Life Everlasting is an unforgettable testament to hope, a tribute to life and discovery, and a portrait of unsung heroes pushing the boundaries of medical science for the benefit of all humanity.
Gray, director of communications for the American Association of Tissue Banks, personally recounts how her six-day-old son's death helped save countless lives, detailing the dogged purpose and exuberant hope that fueled her daunting journey into the world of medical research. Gray and her husband, Ross, knew months before she gave birth to identical twin sons that one of them, Thomas, had a lethal neural tube defect, and they quickly recognized its "higher purpose": that his death would allow organ and tissue donations. Knowing only that Thomas's liver was recovered for a study on liver cell preparation, that his umbilical cord blood would be used for genetic studies, and that his eyes would go to "a very special education research project," Gray methodically tracks down the places that received the donations and the researchers who studied them. "In his short but treasured life," she proudly writes, Thomas accomplished nothing less than a contribution "to the advancement of modern medicine." Gray writes movingly of the loss of her son, the research it aided, and the career to which it led her at the AATB as an advocate for organ and tissue donation. With this remarkable account, Thomas's legacy will continue to inspire.