“Our Son [Who Lived Only Six Days] got into Harvard, Duke, and Penn. He has a Job. He is Relevant to the World. I Only Hope My Life can be as Relevant”

On March 23, 2010, Sarah Gray gave birth to identical twins Thomas and Callum Gray at Fairfax Hospital in Virginia. Callum was healthy, but Thomas suffered from anencephaly and was missing part of his brain. Thomas survived for only six days; Mr. and Mrs. Gray donated his body so it could be used for science research. Ms. Gray said, “Instead of thinking of our son as a victim, I started thinking of him as a contributor to research, to science.” The Grays’ son’s corneas were sent to the Schepens Eye Research Institute (which is affiliated with Harvard Medical School) in Boston, and his liver and umbilical cord blood were sent to Duke University in North Carolina. In 2012, Ms. Gray took a business trip to Boston and called the eye institute to say, “I donated my son’s eyes to your lab. Can I come by for a tour?” This was a first for the receptionist, who said, “I’m not sure who to transfer you to, but don’t hang up!” Ms. Gray met James Zieske, the institute’s senior scientist. Mr. Zieske told her that “infant eyes are worth their weight in gold.” Thomas’ corneas had been used in a study — that has been cited by 13 other studies so far — that may help cure corneal blindness. Later, Mr. Zieske wrote her, “Your visit helped to remind me that all the eyes we receive are an incredibly generous gift from someone who loved and cared about the person who provided the eyes. I thank you for reminding me of this.” Also in 2012, the Grays went to the Duke Center for Human Genetics in Durham, North Carolina, where Thomas’ umbilical cord blood had been used in research that may one day help prevent anencephaly. They also visited Cytonet, a biotech company, which has used Thomas’ liver in research to determine the best temperature for freezing liver tissue. In 2014, Ms. Gray learned that Thomas’ retinas had been sent to the University of Pennsylvania, where they were used in research to find a cure for retinoblastoma, which is the most common form of eye cancer in children. Arupa Ganguly, a genetics professor at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, wrote Ms. Gray, “It is almost impossible to obtain normal retina from a child. The sample from Thomas is extremely precious for us.” Ross Gray, Sarah’s husband, said, “It helped her get over the loss. It was part of the healing process, seeing that there’s still research going on five years after. His life was worthwhile. He’s brought a lot of good to the world.” Sarah Gray said, “The way I see it, our son got into Harvard, Duke, and Penn. He has a job. He is relevant to the world. I only hope my life can be as relevant.”

For More Information: Michael Vitez, “Thomas Gray lived six days, but his life has lasting impact.” Philadelphia Inquirer (Pennsylvania). 29 March 2015

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