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WARMTH REIGNS AS DONOR’S MOM MEETS RECIPIENT

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LAST MONTH I wrote about Craig Bailey's long siege with dialysis and his euphoria at getting his life back through a kidney transplant.

The day after the column appeared, I received an impassioned call from Kristine Pugh, who suspected the donor of the kidney was her son, Christopher, who was killed at the age of 23 in a freak auto-horse accident.She was emotionally overcome at seeing the photo of the man who had received her son's kidney and was anxious to meet him. Only thing is, the transplant center is cautious about such meetings, and their permission was necessary.

Craig was very interested in meeting her, too, because he feels an overwhelming sense of gratitude to her son. Fortunately, permission was granted.

When the day arrived, both Craig and Kristine were nervous, because neither wanted to offend the other. All tension evaporated when Craig and his wife, Colleen, walked in - and Craig and Kristine spontaneously embraced.

Kristine brought a large color photo of Christopher.

"I wanted you to see Christopher and to have an idea of what kind of guy he was." Christopher was 6 feet tall, and Kristine was pleased that Craig is also tall - 6 feet 2." She called Christopher "a big teddy bear who was quite an artist." Then she pulled out some of Christopher's sketches.

Craig said, "I'm not an artist at all."

"Maybe you WILL be," said Kristine.

She recalled Christopher as an ardent fan of TV's "Star Trek," and the kind of person who liked to cheer people up. "He was thoughtful and sweet."

With a catch in his throat, Craig said, "I've got a heck of a legacy to live up to."

Craig talked warmly of his own 23-year-old daughter, saying he couldn't imagine anything worse than losing a child.

Kristine remembered that only three weeks before the accident, Christopher had renewed his driver's license and had chosen to become an organ donor. "He said to me, `I signed the donor card, and you need to know that in case something happens to me.' "

Craig was visibly moved. "That just floors me. It's almost incomprehensible."

He recalled that being on dialysis is like putting your life on the shelf. Then he looked deeply into Kristine's eyes and made the most profound comment of all, "In the midst of all your grief, we were at the opposite end of the scale."

In looking back, Craig sees "an invisible hand. They increased my dialysis time from 3 hours to 31/2 hours for two weeks just before it happened, and I was feeling much healthier."

They talked for awhile about how healthy Christopher had been, that he had never been a drinker or a smoker, and that his kidneys were unusually healthy.

Craig said he meant no disrespect, but it was helpful to know that it was a good kidney "with low mileage."

Everyone chuckled, because that was the kind of meeting it was - emotions ranging sporadically between tears and laughter.

Kristine said Christopher had donated his other kidney and two corneas. "To think that four people are having a good life now because of that technology is a miracle."

She was always impressed with how much her son wanted to help people. "That was his mission, and he did it very well. It was his wish to help someone when he was gone, too."

Craig said, "He did an amazing thing. I will be eternally grateful. There is a connection there that will last forever. He'll always be a part of me."

Kristine replied, "Literally."

Craig added, "Yeah, but spiritually, too."