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140128EPA organdonationThe call came one weekend in the late afternoon. A neurosurgeon needed my help to manage a heart-breaking case of a little boy terribly injured in an accident. We needed to determine whether he was still alive, and could be life-flighted to Portland, or whether it was too late for further medical interventions.

As I raced into the intensive care waiting area, I introduced myself to his family, who was frantic, and explained the next step: A brain blood-flow scan to see if he was still circulating blood to his brain. His parents were not allowed to go into the radiology suite with him. I told them I was a mom and a pediatrician, and that I would be with him every moment.

I still remember the feeling of that little chubby hand suddenly going cold in mine as we were rolling down the hallway toward the scanner. I knew at that moment he had left us. The scan confirmed the tragic news, and I returned with my heart in my throat to talk to the crowd of friends and family in the waiting room.

What happened next was one of the most amazing evenings of my life as a physician. In general, when a child passes away, my role is to explain what happened to the family, answer their questions and give them space to grieve. These conversations are always horrible but usually quite brief. There are few words to say and few questions that matter in that moment. The family usually circles around each other to cry, and I go home to my own family to weep.

But this case was different. The mother sat with me for a long time, talking about her only child now departed, to reflect on the meaning of his life, to share our thoughts about what happens after a child dies, and to ask me about my kids.

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