A Lasting Gift

updated 11/15/2004 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 11/15/2004 AT 01:00 AM EST

On her first trip to the U.S. from her native Sicily, it was a sad task for Maria Pia Pedalà to visit the gravesite of 7-year-old Nicholas Green. But as she knelt on a quiet hillside in Bodega, Calif., to place a bouquet, there was also cause to celebrate. "If it weren't for Nicholas Green," says Pedalà, 29, "neither of my two children would be here. Nor would I."

In 1994 Nick, on vacation in Italy with his family, was shot in an attempted robbery on a desolate highway. Two days later, when he was declared brain dead in a hospital, his parents, Reg and Maggie Green, decided to donate his organs; Pedalà, then 19, comatose and dying from a genetic disorder, received his liver. In the decade since, Pedalà, now a homemaker, recovered, married and, in 1998, named her first child after the boy who saved her life. On Oct. 18, feeling it was time to pay her respects, she arrived in California, where the most emotional part of her two-week stay was spending time at Nick's grave. There, she left a necklace with a small gold star on it, because, as she puts it, "for me and my family, Nicholas is the brightest star that shines in the sky."

For the Greens' part, "When I see Maria's son, Nicholas is still with me," says Reg, 75, who in 1994 founded an organization, named for his son, to promote organ donation. In fact, at the time Nick died, Italy had the lowest organ donation rate in Europe; it has since tripled, thanks in part to the press attention Nick's gift received. "We always thought Nicholas was going to do great things," says Reg. "And he did, in a way we never foresaw."

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