Organ donations from baby who lived only one day help research
COLUMBUS — Noah Calhoon’s cooing was interrupted by a hiccup, and his parents knew the time was near.
Kelly and Adam Calhoon held their newborn, and they told him it was OK.
“You don’t need to struggle,” his parents told him. “You’ve done what you came to do.”
The Worthington couple had brought their son through pregnancy aware that they’d have to say goodbye soon after they said hello.
They had seen him through his 25-hour life without a moment spent outside the arms of someone who loved him.
And they had made a plan that would ensure that the short life would leave a long legacy.
About two hours after his death, Adam carried Noah from his wife’s room at Mount Carmel St. Ann’s hospital to an operating table, where the infant would undergo surgery to donate organs to research that could affect thousands of lives.
This tiniest of organ donors was the inspiration for Lifeline of Ohio’s new program for newborns who suffer from anencephaly, a fetal developmental abnormality in which the skull fails to develop.
Noah’s parents spurred the organization to offer the opportunity after being delivered the diagnosis following an ultrasound 12 weeks into pregnancy.
Noah, born Jan. 10, was the second baby to donate; another newborn had donated six weeks earlier, according to Lifeline, a nonprofit agency that coordinates organ and tissue donations.
Noah’s parents donated his liver, kidneys, lungs, thymus, pancreas, trachea and intestine to foster research involving cancer, diabetes, AIDS, kidney-disease risk, tuberculosis, asthma, lung transplants and a malabsorption disorder called short gut syndrome.
Results of his autopsy at Nationwide Children’s Hospital are being used to teach about brain development and anencephaly. And tissue recovered during the procedure is available, through the hospital’s Research Institute, to scientists around the world.
The significance of Noah’s contributions is beyond words, said Dr. Amy Schlegel, director of perinatal palliative care at Nationwide Children’s.
“I have had many families ask about donation opportunities, and until very recently, the answer has usually been that, while we support their desire, there really aren’t opportunities,” Schlegel said.
The day of Noah’s diagnosis, when Kelly heard the words “not compatible with life outside the womb,” was the worst of her life, leaving her and Adam with the brutal task of deciding whether they should end the pregnancy.
That night, researching online, she encountered information about anencephaly and organ donation.
Babies with anencephaly sometimes die in the womb or are born too prematurely to donate organs. But it was something for the Calhoons to hold onto.
“It was an impact that he could have, it was an impact we could have in making that decision, so it was something that was sort of the silver lining to the whole thing,” Adam said.
Because of his condition, Noah was born by cesarean section and, aside from his underdeveloped brain, he was healthy. He met his 2-year-old sister, Josie, and other family members. Photos were taken, and his hand print and footprints were captured.
After his donation surgery, Noah returned to his parents, swaddled with a stuffed animal and wearing a navy-blue onesie that matched his sister’s.
Kelly didn’t know what to say to him.
“What do you say, other than ‘I love you, I’m gonna miss you, you did a lot of really cool things, and a lot of people love you, a lot of people are gonna remember you’?” she said. “I was just sort of at a loss for words, and Adam reminded me that I didn’t need to say anything at all, that … truly, we brought him this far. And he knew.”
At home, the Calhoons now keep Noah’s ashes, a tall stack of sympathy cards and a shadowbox with mementos and photos.
Josie sometimes gives Eskimo kisses to Noah, pictured with his family on a birth day filled with much joy.
“I can honestly say that that was the best day of my life, just because there was so much love in that room,” Kelly said. “Everybody was so happy and excited, and there wasn’t another care in the world. You just weren’t thinking about anything other than ‘This is why we did this, and we made it, and this was the payoff.'”