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A Girl's Gift of Life, Recalled by Her Doctor
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A Girl's Gift of Life, Recalled by Her Doctor


On Fridays we bring you interviews between family and friends at StoryCorps, the traveling oral history project lets participants guide their own conversations. Few need notes or outlines. Today, a father tells his daughter a story that has stayed with him for ten years.

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MONTAGNE: John Bancroft has been a pediatrician for 24 years. In that time he's treated thousands of children. One stands out, and he recently talked about her with his daughter Carolyn.

Dr. JOHN BANCROFT: A little girl had come to the hospital with the sudden onset of liver failure. She was sitting on her mother's lap at a high school football game when her mother noticed that her eyes were yellow and she was acting a little tired.

By the time we brought her into the hospital, it was pretty clear that her liver was failing and was not likely to recover and we began very quickly the process of listing her for possible transplant.

Seven, eight, nine days went by and there wasn't a donor available. On the tenth day, when we thought we had a lead on a donor, she had a sudden worsening. And even as we were trying to make the decision whether we could go ahead with the transplant, her brain function changed to the point where it was clear we couldn't. There was little chance that she was going to recover.

So after working with that family every day for ten days, just taking each, really each hour as it came. I had to talk with them about the fact that we couldn't go ahead. And as we gathered around her bed, her parents spontaneously turned to us and said, was there any chance that her organs could help another.

And as it turned out, they could. And they wound up donating her kidneys, her pancreas, her corneas. And later I saw a photo of all the recipients and it was one of the most moving photos I've ever seen.

Here was a family that was desperately waiting for a transplant and they wound up turning around and giving at a time when no one would have expected it, and wound up touching a number of individuals and really giving them a new chance at life. That's one of my more memorable days and I don't think I had much to do with it.

CAROLYN: I always wonder how you moved through all of these patients and the success stories and then the losses. And somehow there seems to be hope.

Dr. BANCROFT: Yeah, I think there is. Children have such a resilience and bounce back and heal in ways that always amaze me. And, certainly, it does hurt when children don't heal or when they die. I hope those never stop hurting. But to have one of them turn around and give you a hug around the leg or just smile can really change a day.

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MONTAGNE: John Bancroft with his daughter Carolyn at StoryCorps in New York City. StoryCorps interviews are archived at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. Previous conversations are also archived at

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