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After a girl's fatal accident and a father's anguished decision, organ
recipients are touched by a pure spirit
They did all they could for Zondy. But the car that had hit her and her brother in the
crosswalk that morning had thrown her body so far and with such force that nothing could
bring her back. With the help of machines,
Afflalo's first response was an adamant refusal.
"No way they're going to cut on my baby," he said.
His sister, Suzanne, a doctor for Kaiser Permanente, tried to calm him down. Zondy
doesn't need her organs anymore, she told him. Think of all the sick people out there who
do. Think of all the people Zondy could
But Afflalo had cultural biases to overcome. Black folks don't cut up their bodies, he said to himself. They take their parts with them.
Afflalo turned to his Bible for guidance. Later that afternoon, he found the answers he was looking for.
When we're resurrected, we get glorified new bodies, he thought. Zondy's soul had already gone to heaven. She'd hoped to be a doctor when she grew up -- she would have wanted her organs to go to children who needed them.
It was Thursday, Jan. 21, 1999, Aleszondra Afflalo's 12th birthday.
The next morning, Michael Afflalo arrived at Children's Hospital feeling as if he'd been able to make some sense of the senseless act that killed his daughter, yet he was still deeply depressed. He discussed his decision with other family members and signed the necessary paperwork.
Zondy was declared legally dead at 9:30 a.m.
Before the doctors took Zondy's body away, Michael Afflalo took her brother, Adam, to see her one last time, wheeling Adam's hospital bed into her room. Adam, 11, and Zondy had always been very close, like two bookends.
Adam, whose leg was badly broken when he was hit by the car, reached over and took Zondy's hand. She lay very still on the bed, hooked up with tubes and intravenous lines to life-support machines.
A premature baby, Zondy had come into the world needing these tubes. Now she was leaving it the same way.
That evening, a team of surgeons from UCSD Medical Center spent four hours harvesting Zondy's organs at Children's Hospital.
They removed her liver, kidneys and pancreas, put them on ice and sent them by courier to UCSD. One cornea was too damaged to be used, but the other was shipped to San Francisco in a jar boxed with ice in Styrofoam.
Two surgeons and a nurse came down from Stanford University hoping that Zondy's heart could save the life of a teen-age girl. But when they looked at her heart, they decided it wasn't beating vigorously enough. Later, a nurse told Afflalo that the organ removal had overtaxed the heart.
With the hope that the valves could be salvaged, Zondy's heart was packed in ice and flown to CryoLife Inc., a private company in Atlanta. There, her heart was dissected and the pulmonary and aortic valves were removed, bagged and stored in a liquid nitrogen freezer. They would later be shipped back to Children's and stored for up to 10 years, ready to be implanted into the right patient, a child whose life depended on another child's death.
Afflalo, a cook at the Miramar Marine Corps Air Station, was hugely disappointed that the heart didn't end up going to that teen-age girl. But he tried to remain positive and focus instead on the parts that would help others.
Although it is rare for a donor's family to meet organ recipients and their families right away, perhaps serendipity played a role in this case. Afflalo was convinced it was God's will.
Whatever the reason, Afflalo set out to meet the five people who received the last
living pieces of his little Zondy. He and these recipients would always be linked by
Zondy's liver, her two kidneys, her pancreas, her
As he saw it, the spirit of his daughter, who had loved the Spice Girls and had four best friends, would stay alive in these recipients. He was convinced that staying in touch with them and monitoring their progress would help him cope with the pain of losing Zondy.
Zondy's parts couldn't guarantee anyone a long, healthy life. But Afflalo didn't think about whether the recipients would reject their new organs, or even worse, die. He focused only on the fresh start his daughter's death was giving these five very sick people.
[the article goes on to detail the stories of Zondy's organ recipients]
Two weeks after Zondy's death, Michael Afflalo spoke to about 250 students, parents and teachers who gathered to mourn his daughter at Lewis Middle School.
Zondy died to help other people live, he told them. Thanks to her kidney and pancreas, Chris Dietzler's three children would continue to have a father.
"Zondy's life was not in vain," Afflalo, 44, told the hushed audience.
Tawni Lee Vespice tried to read the poem she'd written, "My Best Friend," but she was crying so hard she couldn't get a word out. Her mother had to read it for her.
Janine Johnson recalled sitting with Zondy on the front step, talking about boys, their brothers and the Spice Girls.
"When I think of Zondy, I think of an angel flying in the air, in the clouds and a rainbow in heaven," she choked out.
Zondy's teachers described her as a natural leader who always looked for the positive traits in others. Her goals included making straight A's, being the best behaved student, turning homework in on time, and not getting into fights. Her favorite color was purple.
Zondy's friends and relatives said they felt her presence, her spirit, there in the auditorium. You could almost see it in the blown-up photo of her -- Zondy with her hair in braids pulled back from her face, her lips closed in a quiet smile, her brown eyes shining.
Afflalo thanked everyone for the hundreds of cards, letters and donations. He thanked his boss. And he thanked God.
"He spared my son, Adam. He could've just as easily taken both of them."
[large portion of the article snipped out...]
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