The Inspiring Legacy of Nicholas Green

This month’s topic for the Italy Roundtable is GREEN.

My first thought and most obvious direction was “going green,” but years ago, I did a series of posts on that topic (read from my archives here) and besides, I wanted to focus on a unique connection between Calabria and GREEN.

The Nicholas EffectAnd then one day while washing dishes, while not even thinking about what to write about for the Roundtable, the story of little Nicholas Green popped into my head. And I knew I had my topic.

Seven-year-old Nicholas Green was visiting Calabria with his family in September 1994. They were on the autostrada (highway) on their way to Sicily but would never make it there. Their car was shot at by men in a passing vehicle who had mistaken the Green family’s rental car for that of a jeweler they intended to rob. Nicholas was shot in the head and died two days later.

What happened next changed Italy in an amazing, beautiful, and most inspiring way.

Nicholas’s parents, accepting that he was gone, selflessly and generously donated his organs; seven Italians’ lives were immediately changed with the transplantation of five of Nicholas’s major organs and both of his corneas.

Nicholas’s father, Reg, talked about the recipients during a CNN interview in 1999:

All of them are living normal lives. One woman had never seen her baby’s face clearly but now has regained her sight. The two children who had spent hours a day, three days a week, hooked up to dialysis machines are now perfectly normal youngsters. The boy who got Nicholas’s heart had previously had six operations on his own heart and all had failed. Now he’s like any normal boy. The woman who got Nicholas’s pancreas cells was a diabetic and had been repeatedly in comas. She was completely dependent on others. The last time I saw her, she was living alone for the first time. And then there was the 19-year-old girl who received Nicholas’s liver, and she was going to die, and the family had gathered to say goodbye. But with the new liver, she came back to good health, was married, and last year had a baby. It was a boy, and they have called him Nicholas.

But Nicholas didn’t only touch the lives of those seven individuals and their families. After his parents’ decision, Italy’s organ donation rate, which previously had been quite low, tripled in the ten years after Nicholas’s death.


And that is what has been called The Nicholas Effect.

Even beyond organ donation rates, though, the story of Nicholas and his parents’ choice touched Italians in an incredibly profound way and continues to resonate even two decades later. You don’t have to be able to read Italian to check out the Nicholas Green Wikipedia page in Italian and see the huge list of “tributi” for him throughout Italy — and not just in Calabria, where the tragic accident occurred.

Streets, parks, squares, schools, a laboratory, an amphitheater, and even a room in the Regional Council (Consiglio Regionale) in Reggio Calabria have been named for him. The Press Democrat in Santa Rosa, California (Nicholas was from nearby Bodega Bay) counts 103 memorials throughout the bel paese for the little boy who had one life but gave seven, as Italian media has put it.

This year will mark 21 years since the death of Nicholas, and there is no better way to honor his memory than to become an organ donor yourself if you haven’t made the commitment already. For more information:

No matter where you are, though, please also talk to your loved ones about your desire to be an organ donor to better ensure that your preferences are followed if/when the time comes to put them into action.

You can read more about Nicholas’ story in the book written by his father Reg, The Nicholas Effect: A Boy’s Gift to the World and at the Nicholas Green Foundation website and on Facebook. The 1998 Jamie Lee Curtis made-for-TV movie, Nicholas’ Gift, also tells the tale.

Please feel free to add links to other organ donation resources in the comments and spread the word!

 Italy Blogging Roundtable

Read the rest of the Italy Roundtable‘s posts here:

  1. Jessica (Italy Explained): Green Travel in Italy
  2. Gloria – (At Home in Tuscany): Nel verde degli anni
  3. Alexandra (ArtTrav): 11 green vegetables I never ate before moving to Italy
  4. Melanie (Italophile): Visions of Veronese Green in Venice
11 Beans of Wisdom to “The Inspiring Legacy of Nicholas Green”
  1. Wow, what an incredible story… I’d never heard of Nicholas before, & I had a lump in my throat by the middle of your post. I wonder, do his parents return to Calabria still? Do they keep up with the people whose lives their son essentially saved?

  2. 04.23.2015

    Beautiful Michelle, thank you so much for sharing Nicholas’s story…. a very worthy cause

  3. Nic

    What a beautiful post. I never knew of this story, thank you for bringing it to my attention.

  4. 04.25.2015

    I remember when this happened. I had just returned home from Italy. It was such a tragic event but his parents turned that tragedy into something truly inspirational.

  5. 05.09.2015

    Beautiful story. I cried while reading it and even cried a little more with joy knowing all these lives were saved by Nicholas. Truly as one door closes another does open. I have been a donor now for ten years and wonder why so many are reluctant to sign up as a donor. Thank you for educating the public. Have a great Mother’s Day. Paulette

  6. William E. Kiaune

    I do remember when this unfortunate incident occurred. A tragedy for that

    family for sure. But the kindness and generosity of this same family is

    amazing. To help others with the death of their child. Wow. Way better

    people than I could ever be. God Bless this child and this family. Thank


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