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A mother sets out to discover how her late son’s organs helped to advance scientific research

A Life Everlasting: The Extraordinary Story of One Boy's Gift to Medical Science

Sarah Gray
HarperCollins
2016
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“I don’t believe in putting anything of value in the ground. Whether it’s a diamond ring that can be passed down to another generation, or if it’s tissue for transplant or for research,” Rebecca Cummings-Suppi, a manager at the Philadelphia-based Gift of Life Donor Program, told Sarah Gray at the 2014 annual meeting of the American Association of Tissue Banks. “That’s how cures happen.”

In A Life Everlasting, Gray recounts her journey to learn how donating her late son’s organs might have helped advance scientific research. The book is heart-wrenching at times, to be sure, but those who would pass it over for this reason are denying themselves the opportunity to meet Sarah’s son, Thomas Ethan Gray, and learn about his ultimate gift to science.

Throughout the book, Gray expertly weaves the story of her son’s terminal condition—anencephaly, diagnosed in utero—and the decision to donate his organs with her quest to determine the donation’s effect on research. The cord blood of Thomas and his healthy twin, Callum, was used in the search for the genetic roots of anencephaly. Thomas’s liver went to a laboratory working to develop a liver-cell transplantation technique, a treatment suitable for newborns too small for liver transplants. His corneas were included in a study to help regenerate certain eye cells and prevent vision loss.

Gray’s desire to find meaning in personal tragedy, and her motherly pride in her late son’s contributions to research, permeate every page. So does her belief in science: Interspersed throughout the book are references to research studies; organ, tissue, and eye banks; organ procurement organizations; and institutions specializing in donations for research, training, and education. A comprehensive resource list for future donors is included in the appendix.

Both poignant and uplifting, A Life Everlasting is not just the story of Thomas Gray; it is also the story of researchers and donation facilitators. Most of all, it is a story of how science can give meaning to both life and death.

NOTES

This material should not be interpreted as representing the viewpoint of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the National Institutes of Health, or the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering.

About the author

The reviewer is at the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD 20892, USA.