From the editor Debbie DeVito remembers glancing at the time.
Her oldest, Marco, was supposed to check in at 2:30.
The mom and son had spent the morning together, enjoying a Presidents Day off from school. DeVito planned to go bowling with her sister and youngest son, Christopher, in the afternoon, but 13-year-old Marco wanted to hang out with friends instead. She gave in to the boy who, like her, was in constant pursuit of a good time. They ordered in Marco’s favorite pizza for lunch, pepperoni from Uno’s, and laughed their way through a TV sitcom.
As DeVito got ready to leave for bowling, Marco hopped on his bike to ride to a friend’s house, promising to call when he arrived. “We hugged each other always and kissed each other always and said I love you always,” DeVito says.
This day was no different.
Time ticked by.
“I thought ‘why hasn’t he called me.’ I called him. Once. I called him again. I didn’t hear anything,” DeVito recalls. Moments after DeVito’s second call to Marco’s cell phone, her phone rang.
There had been an accident.
Marco’s bike hadn’t made it completely across the busy Pfingsten and Willow Road intersection in Northbrook, an intersection she and other residents campaigned to make safer. Though his front tire was on the curb, the back wheel was still in the road when the light turned green.
Critically injured, the chaplain at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital explained.
“I dropped to the floor, someone caught me, and I knew.”
Over the hours before Marco’s death, the family saw a blur of doctors and nurses and chaplains. Someone asked about organ donation. DeVito remembers turning to her sister for advice, but says she already knew it felt right. Her Marco, always cheering for the underdog, would want to help others."Gee, what a gift, the ultimate gift,” she remembers. She donated his organs, but not tissue which included dark eyes that matched her own.
She and husband Mark buried their boy in jeans, size 12 gym shoes and his favorite black T-shirt that read"Sometimes I pee when I laugh.” Then they set about the painful task of getting on with life, loving Christopher but not crushing him, moving away from the home they loved and reaching an acceptance that Marco was gone.
DeVito wanted the anonymous recipients of Marco’s organs to know what made him special. Working through Gift of Hope she told them about her boy, a boy who loved football and extreme rollerblading, a boy she described as"full of life, enough for five people.”
His organs indeed went to five people. Two contacted DeVito after her letter. Both neared death. Cecil received Marco’s liver. Theresa received Marco’s lungs.
The first Christmas after the accident, Theresa called."Marco’s still alive,” she told the DeVitos. “With every breath I take I think about him.”
DeVito poured her hurt into a book,"Marco’s Gift,” and began working for Gift of Hope training hospital staff members about organ donation.
“We know what we have lost, but we try to find happiness in what we have,” DeVito says, reflecting on the upcoming holidays.
Her message to other parents comes weighted with tears, words barely escaping her lips. “Appreciate the things you have. Don’t take life for granted. Appreciate every second you have with your angels.”
As I shared a few tears, thinking of my own kids, I realized I couldn’t have said it better. I wish you all happiness and love this holiday season.
In Illinois, more than 4,700 people are waiting for organs. Every year, nearly 300 die waiting for a transplant. It takes just a few minutes to sign up online at www.IAmAreYou.org, or one phone call (1-800-210-2106) to save up to nine lives and enhance up to 25 others.
Debbie DeVito suggests parents talk with their kids about organ donation if the opportunities arise while watching a TV show or reading a story in the newspaper. Make it a comfortable discussion.
But if the conversation never takes place,"do what’s in your heart,” DeVito says. She says she has no regrets she did.