Brendas' Garden-The Gift
by Brenda Looney

I was looking through some old photo albums when I came across the newspaper clippings and pictures I'd somehow put in the back of my mind. The headline jumped out at me. "New Kidney, New Life For Boy." I reread the story that had made the front page of the newspaper..... a story of a nightmare that I had lived through somehow.

It was the winter of 1979 in Michigan. I had been casually following TV news reports about an illness called Reye's Syndrome that had been hitting area children. I was a stay at home Mom of a two year old son. My sister lived only four miles from me and we would chat on the phone daily about our kids and just life in general. She told me that Paul had a sore throat and was staying home from school that week. Paul seemed to feel better on Friday and when my sister asked if he was ready to go back to school, he said he didn't think so because he had heard on television that kids were getting really sick from some syndrome and he thought he'd best stay home one more day. Shirley, my sister, didn't push it and let him stay home.

kim david paul brenda

The next morning, my sister awoke with severe chest pains. Russ, her husband, was going to take her to the emergency room. Paul helped tie her shoes for her as it hurt for her to bend over with what turned out to be a collapsed lung. She was admitted to the hospital and everyone's focus was on her for the time being. Paul seemed to relapse from his sore throat and had begun vomiting. A call into his pediatrician resulted in a prescription for some nausea medicine being prescribed. He was sleeping a lot and everyone figured he must have a virus or a flu bug. Russ had his hands full. His wife was in one hospital with a collapsed lung. His child was sick at home, and he had gotten a call to rush his own father to another hospital for a possible brain tumor. He was juggling running back and forth trying to tend to all these serious situations.

I had just sent my husband off to work and got my son down for a nap when the phone rang. It was my brother-in-law calling from the hospital saying I had better get up there quick. Paul had now been admitted and the diagnosis was Reye's Syndrome. I hung up and felt a terrible panic. All the news reports came flooding back to me and I knew this was a grave diagnosis for my little 12 year old nephew. The next door neighbors kindly took my son and I got to the hospital as fast as I could.

When I arrived I went to my sister's room and we were all upset and in a panic for what to do. All of us went into a conference room with a team of doctors who tried to explain the situation concerning Paul and what their plan of operation was to be. He was to stay here in the intensive care unit and they would be in touch by phone with the specialist at Children's Hospital for the night. The staff had agreed to let my sister visit her son in the intensive care unit. She was on oxygen and IVs but I managed to get her into a wheel chair and into the elevator. The staff nurse on duty kindly showed us the way to where Paul was at. The curtain was pulled from around his bed and the reality of how gravely ill he was set in.

He was in a coma but his eyes were partially open.....but not seeing. A tear or two would fall down his cheek, but it was explained that he was not crying. He was unconscious. He had stopped breathing on his own and was on a ventilator. The heaving and hissing of the machine took over the silence of the room. I helped my sister up so she could get close to him. We tried to talk to him through choked tears.

My mind drifted in thought.....back to just a few weeks before.  He had called me late on a Saturday night and asked if he could come over and spend the night. "Please Auntie Brenda, can I come?" I told him he could and his dad drove him over. He had wanted me to help him style his hair and we talked about it. He put on one of my husbands T-shirts to sleep in. I wasn't sure why he liked to stay at our house so much...maybe it was just a chance to be the only one of his siblings there. I was glad that I had said yes to him that night and that we got to spend time alone together. He always loved my son who was only two. I had kept the kids for a while when my sister was in the hospital the year before, and Paul and the others had worked and worked with my son teaching him how to walk. By the end of the week little David was walking and Paul was beaming and grinning ear to ear taking credit for this accomplishment.

Paul and baby David

My mind snapped back to the reality of what was happening. Tears were streaming down my sisters face and my heart broke for her. We just stood there and cried and hugged each other. There was nothing we could do but pray as it seemed Paul was in God's hands now.  It was decided by the doctors finally that Paul was to be transported to Children's Hospital. As I left to take my sister back to her room, the nurse handed me Paul's bag of clothes to take with me. I don't know why, but holding that bag made me feel like I was holding the last of Paul in my hands. I clutched it tightly when I was alone and cried and cried.

I stayed at the hospital with my sister day and night. Rules were broken and I was allowed to stay in the bed next to her along with her other son, Rusty, who was 15. The two younger girls were being cared for by kind neighbors. They didn't realize exactly what was going on. They were only told that Paul was sick. My brother in law stayed day and night with Paul down at Children's Hospital. Rusty was adamant that he wanted to be with Paul, and finally went down and joined his father at Children's. He was taking this very hard, and he wouldn't leave his brother's side. This went on for many days. Sis and I would turn on the television news to catch the reports about Paul as it was being covered by all media. We called constantly down to Children's Hospital for any news of improvement, but there was none.

Finally, my sister was allowed to leave the hospital and I took her home with me. I picked up the two younger girls and brought them to my house as well. Sis was still not well and all the stress and strain of everything was not helping. The phone rang constantly with friends and family wanting the latest updates. There was so much chaos and confusion. I had to find some way to have quiet time to explain to the girls exactly what was happening. I also needed to help my sister try to get some rest. I was very worried about her.

I ordered a pizza and set the phone off the hook. Brenda was 10 and Kim was 9 at the time. There is no easy way to say what I had to, so I just told them that Paul was too sick to get better and that he might not live. Their eyes widened and I tried to answer their questions as kindly but truthfully as I could. They were so young to have to deal with the truth and my heart broke as I saw the fear and confusion on their little faces.  I put them in my bedroom together in the double bed and hugged and kissed them goodnight. As I passed by the room a while later, I heard the girls praying to God to please not let Paul die. I really choked up hearing their precious prayers and added my own. "Please God, don't let him die. Help this family get through this." These two sisters were bonded in grief and huddled together for comfort till they finally fell asleep.

I let out the sofa bed in the family room for Sis and I to sleep on. It had been many, many years since we had slept together. It was like going back into my childhood and we talked and talked way into the night about everything. We reminisced about how I used to tickle and scratch her back while she would tell me a story.  We laughed and we cried and we hugged. We were two sisters bonded in grief and huddled together for comfort and had finally started to drift off to sleep. We hadn't been sleeping long before the doorbell rang. It was other family members who had come for my sister to go down to the hospital. A scan had been done and it was determined that Paul was brain dead and they were going to turn off the respirator. Decisions had to be made......and good-byes said. I helped her get dressed and hugged her good-bye and I stayed with the girls.

There are usually two brain scans performed before the decision to pull the plug is done, but my brother in law insisted it be done one more time. He wanted to make certain there was absolutely no brain activity before he allowed the doctors to turn off the respirator. I managed to get down to the hospital to see Paul one last time. I taped a picture of him to his headboard to remind us of what he really looked like, as he no longer resembled the kid that we knew. His head had been half shaved where the shunt had gone in to try to relieve the brain swelling. He was bloated and hooked to all kinds of machinery and tubes everywhere......and the hissing and heaving of that respirator was deafening. I wanted him back so be back with his parents and brother and sisters. I talked to him and promised him everything if he'd just wake up. I hoped he could hear us all talking to him. It was his mother's birthday. I didn't want him to die on his mother's birthday.

The plug was pulled and his organs were harvested and donated, as was requested by my sister and her husband. The funeral was a few days later ... on his father's birthday. A large crowd of people came and the funeral home was packed. Flowers were everywhere.  Grown men bawled like babies. Children hesitantly walked to the casket of their friend to say good-bye. Paul's teachers and principal had come to pay their last respects. It was the worst thing I think I ever had to endure, but we got through it somehow. Paul was plucked suddenly from our lives, but was now in God's hands.

A letter from the hospital came to my sister. The letter was to let her know that Paul's organs had been donated and thanking her. The recipient of one of Paul's kidneys was a little boy named Rocky. He was 10 years old and had suffered kidney failure following a mysterious two-month coma. He'd been sick for two years. He was dying and so weak he was confined to a wheelchair. He had been in the hospital at the same time as Paul just down the hall. His parents got the call that a kidney was available........Paul's kidney.  Rocky's parents had read about Paul's death, one of four Reye's Syndrome fatalities, in a Detroit newspaper. Rocky had a chance now of having a normal life again. The story of the transplant and donor was printed in the newspaper. The clipping is now yellow with age in my photo album. It was a story of the greatest gift of that was paid for with many tears for our dear Paul.

Time passed and everyone in the family went through a lot of adjustments to not having Paul with us any more. There was anger, guilt and depression and all the other things that families go through when death knocks at the door. It was a terrible strain. Little Kim, who was only 9 at the time, was afraid to go to sleep for fear she wouldn't wake up. Others in the family had to have counseling, and after much prayer and hard work the family survived.

On the one year anniversary of Paul's death my sister got a letter in the mail. It was from Rocky's Mom. She explained that Rocky said a prayer every day for her and for Paul, and how grateful he is to be alive. He had recovered, and the kidney he had recieved was working. He was out of the wheelchair and able to go back to school. He was a fourth grader at Shrine of the Little Flower. He was feeling the best he had in two years. This precious child had been given a gift of a new kidney and another chance to live. His parent's joy must have been tremendous.  One families loss was another's families answer to a prayer. I think we all took some comfort in knowing that a part of Paul was alive and that his death was not in vain. The loss had a purpose. His death had been a gift to Rocky.

Paul would now be a grown man 37 years of age. One wonders what his life would have been like. It's hard to imagine as he will always be 12 in our minds and hearts. He was freckle-faced and small for his age. He was a determined child who when he got something in his mind, he usually did it. Like saving twenty three dollars in just two weeks to buy special wheels for his new disco roller skates. His father used to say he was "born running." He often bought tiny ceramic figures from rummage sales to add to his mother's collection.  His father was quoted in the newspaper article as saying, "He crowded a lot into those 12 years. It's funny that Paul was the rowdiest of all the children. He needed more love than the others. I only hope I gave him enough." They are together now, as his father died 13 years later.

Celebrate the gift of life. It's cost cannot be measured. There is no debt as it is already paid for in tears.

Paul, we will never forget you

We miss you Paulie!
"I'll send you for a little time
A child of mine", He said,
"For you to love the while he lives
And mourn for when he's dead.

It may be forty or fifty years,
Or even two or three
But will you, till I call him back,
Take care of him, for me?

He'll bring his charms to gladden you,
And should his stay be brief,
You'll have his lovely memories
As solace for your grief.

I cannot promise he will stay,
Since all from earth return,
But there are lessons taught down there
I want this child to learn.

I've looked this wide world over
In my search for teachers true.
And from the throngs that crowd life's lanes
I have selected you.

Now, will you give him all your love,
Nor think the labor vain,
Nor hate me when I come to call
To take him back again."

I fancied that I heard him say,
'Dear Lord thy will be done.'
For all the joy thy child shall bring,
The risk of grief we'll run.

We'll shelter him with tenderness,
We'll love him while we may
And for the happiness we've known,
Forever grateful stay.

But should the angels call for him
Much sooner than we've planned,
We'll brave the bitter grief that comes,
And try to understand.

Edgar Guest

(music is "the Gift")

Memories of an Abundant Life  * Family Ties  *  Flowers & Friends
Grandpas' Picture   * In Rememberance   *  Letter to My Father
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