Tory Koch and other life celebrations

Tuesday, April 21, 1998

BY LAURA PULFER
The Cincinnati Enquirer

A sea of faces, many of them with reddened eyes. Audible sniffling. Yet it was a celebration.

Patty Britton was speaking Sunday from the stage of Memorial Hall. Beautiful, articulate, a 31-year-old woman who needed -- and got -- a new liver. Voice a little unsteady, she thanked the people in the audience, families of those who donated organs, tissues and eyes last year.

More sniffling, dabbing at eyes. I noticed a man who simply let the tears roll down his cheeks and drip onto his jacket. I wondered whom he was remembering. I was remembering Victoria Koch. Tory. Age 14, owner of a purple bicycle, aspiring ballet dancer, saxophone player and thoroughly positive person.

Most of us heard about the little girl from Lebanon for the first time in February 1993, when she underwent a double lung transplant, radical treatment for cystic fibrosis. We followed her to the hospital many times, every one of those trips a new crisis for a child who probably never drew an unimpeded breath in her life.

Yet she smiled, on camera and off. An incandescent smile.

A starring role

After her transplant, she told the Enquirer that "I wake up, do the day, go to sleep, wake up, have fun. I don't think about death."

She played a page who handed out oranges in a Cincinnati Ballet production of Cinderella, a cameo role. In real life, she was a star. The Ohio Valley LifeCenter, which coordinates tissue and organ donations in the Tristate and sponsored Sunday's ceremony, had an unusually high number of donations in 1995, the year Tory died. The LifeCenter attributes the increase to Tory's public battle. This year, donations restored sight to more than 425 people, rescued more than a thousand burn and accident victims who needed skin and bone grafts, and gave a second chance to 122 people who needed organ transplants.

"A few months before her death," a woman says, "my daughter and I went to get her a state identification card. My daughter was asked if she wanted to be an organ donor. She saw me cringe at the thought of death. Her exact words were, "Maybe I could help someone see. Why wouldn't you want to do that?' "

A baby lost, another saved

Sunday was a celebration of lives saved and a remembrance of those who saved them. Patty Britton fits into both categories.

Pregnant, she was hospitalized for what doctors thought might be a relatively minor problem. "Then something went terribly wrong," she says. "I woke up after being in a coma and was told I had a new liver." Her baby, Christopher, was delivered two months early, weighing only 2 pounds, and "we lost him four months later." Patty and her husband, Paul, became a donor family.

Three years have passed since their son's death. Patty and Paul have investigated adoption, and they're going to Lexington, Ky., this week to look into a surrogate program.

"We have so much love to share," she says. This is from someone who not only counsels transplant candidates but probably has baked and given away enough therapeutic banana bread and chocolate cookies to feed everyone in her Hebron neighborhood.

Obituaries often request memorials be made in the name of the person the family has lost. Because we don't want them to be forgotten. Ever.

And I just cannot imagine a finer memorial than giving more time on this earth to Tory Koch. Or a new life to Patty Britton -- banana bread baker, doting wife, secretary, adoring daughter, support group leader -- who dares to dream of being a mother again.

Laura Pulfer's column appears in the Enquirer on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call 768-8393 or fax 768-8340. She can be heard Monday mornings on WVXU radio (91.7 FM), and as a regular commentator on National Public Radio's Morning Edition. E-mail her at laurapulfer@enquirer.com

PULFER ARCHIVE