Foon Rhee

Editorial notebook: In the depths of despair, parents give the gift of life

At first glance, they are only the latest heartbreaking holiday tragedies – two children killed in car crashes.

But look a little deeper and, ultimately, they are uplifting examples of generosity and grace.

What struck me most about the stories of 11-year-old Moses Galang of Sacramento and 9-year-old Mariah Izzo of Manteca is that their parents, even in their darkest hour, found it in their hearts to think of others and donate their child’s organs.

Mariah, who played soccer and had just started her Twitter account, died on Christmas Eve, a day after the car she was riding in was rear-ended in Modesto. Gathered at her bedside at UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento, her family made the decision for donation. “We wanted to help some other child,” Mariah’s dad, Tony, told The Modesto Bee. “She’s my little hero.”

Moses, who loved reading and making up stories, passed away the day after Christmas, three days after he was hit by a car on a south Sacramento street. His father, Morris, says he was inspired to donate his son’s organs when his stepson received a blood transfusion. “It’s a lasting tribute to Moses,” he told The Bee’s Tillie Fong. “He was vibrant and full of life.”

Once I got the lump out of my throat, I was in awe.

“It’s a wonderful gift their children left the world,” says Tracy Bryan of Sierra Donor Services, the Sacramento region’s transplant donor network.

Such heartwarming examples, she told me, help spread the message and speed the day when organ donation is the norm.

It isn’t now, as the sad statistics show.

Every day, while an average of 79 Americans receive organ transplants, another 18 die because no matching organs are available. More than 120,000 Americans are now on waiting lists, including more than 1,300 in the area served by Sierra Donor Services.

Under nationwide rules, because of the size of their organs, kids younger than 12 are almost always restricted to organs from other children. More than 1,700 children under 18 received organ transplants in 2012; about 1,800 children remain on waiting lists nationwide.

While parents or guardians have the final say unti1 they turn 18, children as young as 13 can make their wishes known by signing up at the registry (, maintained by Sierra Donor Services and the state’s three other nonprofit donor networks.

I signed up to be an organ donor as soon as I first got my driver’s license. Despite the best efforts of transplant centers for decades, only about 45 percent of U.S. adults have registered as donors.

In 2012, California lagged far behind the national average, at 34 percent, though that number is rising thanks to sign-ups through the Department of Motor Vehicles and Facebook and a program aimed at high schools.

Every potential donor is precious; experts say that less than 1 percent of the 2.5 million people who die each year in the U.S. can provide viable organs because of diseases or the cause of death.

A single donor can save as many as eight lives; because organs have to be transplanted quickly, most help patients within the region.

Whether or not to be an organ donor can be a deeply personal choice; I’m certainly not going to lecture those who have qualms. But if you ponder what the parents of Mariah and Moses did, how can you not at least think twice?