On May 29, 2024

The Nicholas Green story: An American family tragedy abroad transforms seven lives  

Taken two years after the tragedy, members of the Green family gathered with the recipients of Nicholas’s organs. Back row (l-r): Reg Green, Maggie Green, Andrea Mongiardo (heart), Francesco Mondello (cornea), Tino Motta (kidney), Anna Maria Di Ceglie (kidney), Eleanor Green. Front row (l-r): Laura Green, Maria Pia Pedala (liver), Domenica Galleta (cornea), Silvia Ciampi pancreas, Martin Green. Photo submitted.

By Bruce Bouchard and John Turchiano

Editor’s note: Bruce Bouchard is former executive director of The Paramount Theatre. John Turchiano,  his friend for 52 years, was formerly the editor of “Hotel Voice,” a weekly newspaper on the New York Hotel Trades Council. They are co-authoring this column collaborating to tell short stories on a wide range of topics. 

It was a family vacation. The year was 1994 and Americans Reg and Maggie Green and their two children, Nicholas, age 7, and Eleanor, age 4, were traveling through Italy, enjoying the friendly people, the beautiful scenery and the delicious food. They were from Bodega Bay, a small, sleepy, seaside city 65 miles north of San Francisco. They were driving from Salerno to Calabria when robbers mistook them for someone else and began pursuing them. The bandits pulled alongside their car and shouted something in Italian that the Greens did not understand. But Reg Green recognized the situation as menacing and sped away with the robbers in pursuit. Some shots were fired but the Greens were able to outrace the would-be thieves. But when they reached safety they discovered that Nicholas, asleep in the back seat, had been shot in the head. They immediately drove to the nearest town, but the hospital there was not equipped to deal with Nicholas’s severe injury. The police quickly took the family to the city of Messina, which had a hospital with a specialist unit for head injuries. There, Nicholas was pronounced brain dead the next day.Italians were aghast. Shame was felt throughout the entire country because an American child had been senselessly killed by thieves while his family was touring Italy.It is doubtful that there is a word in the English language descriptive enough to portray the abject grief that befalls parents who lose a child. It’s indescribably sad, and the Greens were absolutely heartbroken at the loss of 7-year-old Nicholas. And yet they somehow resisted the bitterness that surely knocked on the doors of their emotions. They didn’t criticize Italy for the crime and they didn’t censure Italian medical personnel for failing to save their son’s life. Instead, they praised the Italian police and the doctors who raced frantically to help Nicholas. The Greens didn’t even condemn the two robbers who killed their son, men who were later arrested, tried, and jailed. No, instead of surrendering to the understandable anger at the death of their beloved son the Greens chose generosity. 

Nicholas’s organs were donated to five critically ill Italians, four of them teenagers, including a boy of 15, who had a heart defect, and two children hooked up to dialysis machines several hours a week. All five transplant recipients’ lives were saved. In addition to this, two other Italians who were blind had their sight restored after each received one of Nicholas’s corneas. And all of Italy marveled at the extraordinary kindness of these two Americans, Reg and Maggie Green.

Italy is largely Catholic and although the church did not disallow organ transplants, old traditions kept many Italians from considering these simple gifts that can literally save lives. Thirty years ago Italy was last in Europe in organ donations. But it was not long after Nicholas Green’s heartbreaking death that Italian organ donations tripled. Today, Italy is second only to Spain in the E.U. in organ transplants. This dramatic evolvement is known as L’effeto Nicola: The Nicholas Effect. It’s a term that not only refers to organ donation but to all the good things that emerged from this terrible tragedy.

[Editor’s note: 56% of Vermonters are registered organ donors putting Vermont in the top five in the U.S. That’s over 330,000 people. Roughly 97% of those registered donors signed up at the DMV, even through the organ donor box is no longer printed on state licenses.]

The Greens’ decision to donate Nicholas’s organs was a top news story in Italy. Reg and Maggie Green were even received by Italy’s president and awarded the country’s highest civilian honor, La Medaglia d’Oro Civile.

News stories, especially uplifting ones, usually have short attention spans. But not this one. In the Greens’ hometown of Bodega Bay, California, sits the Children’s Bell Tower, dedicated to the memory of Nicholas, using more than 100 bells, most of them sent to the Greens from families, villages, schools, and churches all over Italy. The names of the seven recipients of Nicholas’s organs are inscribed on the central bell, which was donated by the Marinelli foundry that has made bells for the papacy for more than 1,000 years. That bell was blessed by Pope John Paul II in a ceremony held at the foundry. The Greens reciprocated by donating to Calabria “The Birds,” a towering steel sculpture of inspiration. It depicts seven birds flying free, symbolizing the obvious, the recipients of Nicholas’s organs. It is made of steel smelted from guns confiscated by the San Francisco Police Dept. Today, there are more than 150 Italian streets, schools, gardens and piazzas named after an American, Nicholas Green. And truthfully, all these good things don’t comprise even half of L’effeto Nicola, the Nicholas Effect.

The Greens visited Italy in 2019, the 25th anniversary of Nicholas’s death. In a ceremony in Messina they met some especially grateful Italians. One was Maria Pia Pedala, who was on her deathbed at 19 years of age the night she received the gift of life from Nicholas and his parents. Mrs. Pedala received Nicholas’s liver. She fully recovered, married and gave birth to a son that she and her husband named Nicholas. The Greens also met Domenica Galletta, who never saw her daughter until she received one of Nicholas Green’s corneas, and they were greeted by Francesco Mondello, who was a young dad when he received Nicholas’s other cornea.

Reg and Maggie Green can certainly take pride in the fact there are many people in Italy and elsewhere who would not be alive today had they not received organ donations inspired by the Nicholas Effect. The Greens said they found solace in believing that there were kings who weren’t remembered for as long a time as people around the world have kept alive the memory of their beautiful 7-year-old son.

Reg Green, who is now 95-years-old, has said that after what his family went through he was often asked, “Don’t you hate Italy?” 

He explained, “I hope the answer is clear. Maggie and I have never thought that Italy pulled the trigger. Two criminals killed Nicholas. It could have happened anywhere. But what couldn’t have happened anywhere was the response. I don’t think any other country in the world would have shown involvement of this order. It was that flood of human warmth that helped turn a reckless act of brutality into a universal lesson in which life has triumphed over death and hope over despair.”

On the last night of their 25th anniversary visit to Italy Reg Green was taken to Rome’s famous Cesarina restaurant, once the favorite haunt of Federico Fellini and Marcello Mastroianni. There, a surgeon who was his host introduced Reg to the maitre d,’ telling the man that Reg was the father of an American boy who was shot in an attempted robbery and whose organs were donated to seven Italians. Tears welled in the maitre d’s eyes. And as he shook Reg’s hand he became so overcome with emotion he could only manage to say two words: “Nicholas Green.”

Do you want to submit feedback to the editor?

Send Us An Email!

Related Posts

Lessons abroad, Vermont recharge

June 12, 2024
Building a Killington Dream Lodge, part 17  What a difference a year can make. I was really excited about the changes taking place in our Killington ski lodge while I was away attending Schiller College Paris my sophomore year and Graz Center for the second summer. Meanwhile, in Vermont once the roof was done, Dad…

June: ‘bloom whereyou are planted’

June 12, 2024
June is usually thought of as the beginning of summer. School is out, we open our summer houses and maybe plan a vacation. I was given a book called “The Big Book of 30-Day Challenges” written by Rosanna Casper. It sat on a table for a long time with me just looking at it every…

Summer vacation for students in the 50s

June 12, 2024
Whether it’s 2024 or 1954 kids share the enthusiasm that comes from being on school vacation during the summer months. However, the way that their free time is spent has few similarities. As often happens when my weekly breakfast group gets together we take a “look back” at various things and recently we recalled what…

Secrets of early summer

June 12, 2024
Shhhh. Don’t tell anybody, but this is one of my all time favorite weeks of the year. The one where I make myself so exhausted that I am asleep before my head even hits the pillow. The one where I am up with the sunrise for no reason except that I cannot wait for the…