WASHINGTON (AP) — An ultrasound showed one of Sarah Gray’s unborn twins was missing part of his brain, a fatal birth defect. His brother was born healthy but Thomas lived just six days. Latching onto hope for something positive to come from heartache, Gray donated some of Thomas’ tissue for scientific research — his eyes, his liver, his umbilical cord blood.
Only no one could tell the Washington mother if that precious donation really made a difference. So Gray embarked on an unusual journey to find out, revealing a side of science laymen seldom glimpse.
“Infant eyes are like gold,” a Harvard scientist told her.
“I don’t think people understand how valuable these donations are,” said Gray, who hadn’t either until her years-long quest brought her face-to-face with startled scientists. They had never met a relative of the donors so crucial to their work either.
Families often find comfort in learning how many lives were saved if they donated a loved one’s organs for transplant. But donating a body for research gets less attention — there are no headline-making “saves.” Yet critical medical research in labs around the country depends on scientists’ ability to work with human cells and organs, so they can study both normal development and how disease does its dirty work.
“A lot of people, if the tissue doesn’t get used for transplant, they think it’s kind of second-rate tissue or something. I’d like them to know that people who do research with human tissue are doing worthwhile things that are going to, hopefully, lead to cures for all kinds of diseases,” said Dr. James Zieske, a corneal specialist at Harvard and the Schepens Eye Research Institute, whose description of treasured infant eyes spurred Gray’s hunt.
Now, hoping to help other families facing decisions about donation, Gray has written a book, “A Life Everlasting, The Extraordinary Story of One Boy’s Gift to Medical Science.” Gray and two of the scientists she met in her quest spoke with The Associated Press about donation for research.
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