Kristie Gives the Gift of Life

Life from death: Four alive from teen's decision

by Larry Mitchell
Chico Enterprise-Record
December 23, 2002

Candy and Mark Priano of Chico knew the intentions of their 15-year-old daughter, Kristie, who was a student at Champion Christian School. At the school, her health class had discussed organ donation and the importance of talking to family members. Candy recalled the evening Kristie got up from the dinner table and told her parents and older brother, Steve, "I'd definitely want to donate my organs."

That concern for others was characteristic of Kristie, Candy said. "Our daughter was just a joy. (Her death) left a big hole not only in our family but for a lot of people who were touched by Kristie's giving nature."

The crash* that took Kristie's life seemed highly improbable. One day in January, she was riding in a mini-van with her family through a residential area in Chico when their vehicle was struck by an SUV driven by a 15-year-old, who was being pursued by police.

[The officers knew the teen's identity and that she was driving her mother's car without permission.]

Moments after the crash, Candy said the "silence in the van was deafening." 

Finally, she heard her son, Steve, asking what had happened. 

"I told him, 'I think we were in a terrible accident,'** " she said. "I started yelling Kristie's name. There was no answer." 

Kristie had sustained a head injury. She was in a coma for seven days at Enloe Medical Center. The family was grateful she remained alive that long, Candy said. "We got to hold her and tell her for a whole week how much we loved her. Her body was perfect - there was just one scratch near her eye. Outwardly, she looked as beautiful as ever and so at peace."

Organ donation may not be the right choice for every family that finds itself in the Prianos' situation, but in their case it was, Candy said.

"It was a blessing that we knew we were doing what Kristie wanted. I think what you get from it is lasting--your loved one has provided life for other people." 

However, "it does not replace what was taken from us," she noted. "Kristie is so so irreplaceable. Not a day or a moment goes by without the sense of the huge hole that will forever be in my heart."

Kristie's organs went to four people from Northern California. At first, the Prianos were told one of the recipients was to be a 15-year-old, someone the same age as Kristie. They found that consoling. But about three weeks later, the Prianos received a letter from the donor network telling them, without giving names, who received Kristie's organs. All the recipients were doing well. 

The letter, offering thanks and sympathy as well as information, stated, in part, "Both kidneys and the pancreas were successfully transplanted. (One) kidney recipient is a married man. He is 58 years old. The recipient of the other kidney along with the pancreas is a single woman. She is 28 years old. Both of these recipients are looking forward to healthier and more active lives ... . 

"The liver recipient is a single man. He is 32 years old and has three children. The recipient of Kristina's heart and lungs is a married woman. She is 31 years old. Without these lifesaving transplants, these recipients would not have survived." 

The Prianos were glad to get this news, but imagining their child's organs now in the bodies of adults ... . 

"I started crying," Candy said. "I couldn't believe her kidney was in a 58-year-old man." 

The 11 months since Kristie's death have consisted of days when things seemed somewhat under control and days when they didn't. The day that letter arrived was one of the really bad ones, Candy said.

But the next day, another letter arrived. It was from the older man who'd received a kidney from Kristie. He was an ordained Christian minister. He expressed his condolences to the Prianos and also his gratitude for what he called "a new dimension to my life." For nearly seven years he'd had to have dialysis three times a week. Now he was free of that. The pastor wrote of God's love and told the family Kristie was now with Him. "God bless you, and Heaven smile on you," he wrote. 

The letter was comforting, Candy said. "We are very strong in our faith."

*The original copy said "accident." These deaths that happen every week to innocent bystanders are not accidents. They are predictable and preventable crashes.

**Later I would learn that this was not an accident.
—Candy Priano


Kristie's brother Steven Priano has his hand on his mother's back. Candy receives hugs from the people who formed a human chain around Enloe Medical Center Jan. 24, praying for her daughter Kristie, who lay in the hospital's neuro-trauma wing. Kristie's head trauma was the result of a crash due to a police chase through a residential neighborhood. The fleeing driver plowed at an estimated 60 mph into the family's van hitting right where Kristie was sitting. (Ty Barbour, Chico Enterprise-Record)
It's about saving lives, too
Published 2002—Many of the 6,439 Americans who died waiting for organ transplants last year would be alive today if only more organs were available. And more organs would be available if more people would make their wishes known. Many people don't know family members' feelings on organ donation, and that's a problem, said Mary Wallace, public affairs manager for the California Transplant Donor Network. 

And more organs would be available if more people would make their wishes known. Many people don't know family members' feelings on organ donation, and that's a problem, said Mary Wallace, public affairs manager for the California Transplant Donor Network. 

"Almost 90 percent of Americans believe organ donation allows something positive to result from the death of a loved one, but only 47 percent would be willing to donate a loved one's organs if donation had not been previously discussed." 

The non-profit agency Wallace works for is one of four federally designated organ-procurement organizations in California. It serves 40 counties in the northern and central parts of the state. In that region, each year, about 350 people die under conditions which make them potential organ donors. In 2001, organs were recovered from 58 percent of the 369 potential donors. That's better than the national average, which is about 50 percent, Wallace said. 

According to surveys, less than 50 percent of Americans have told family members their wishes concerning organ donation. 

"Who wants to discuss death?" she said. "It's so morbid." She suggested a fairly painless way to communicate on the subject: ask your next of kin to sign as a witness the donor card you can obtain at any Department of Motor Vehicles office.