Parents lose 2 sons in 2 days
Life-support switched off crash victim

Friday, December 4, 1998

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Christine Frank kisses her son Christopher as the teen lay in intensive care at University Hospital.
(Ernest Coleman photo)

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The transplant forms signed, the wrenching decision made, Christine Frank fell forward into her mother's arms Thursday afternoon, sobbing for the two teen-age sons taken from her in two days.

Slowly, the mother rocked, stroking the hair of her grieving daughter, and the two cried together. Around the University Hospital conference table -- just down the hall from her younger son's room -- tears spread among the gathered relatives and friends.

There was no hope, doctors had said, for 15-year-old Christopher Michael Frank, who lay silently amid the tubes and machines supporting his life. A scan of Christopher's brain taken two hours earlier showed minimal activity, not enough to ever bring him out of his vegetative state.

A day earlier, doctors delivered the same news about Christopher's 18-year-old brother, James Ryan Frank.

The young men were injured Tuesday afternoon when the car James was driving swerved out of control on southbound Interstate 275 in Clermont County, near the Beechmont Avenue exit. It spun into the path of a van, which slammed the car broadside.

As the boys' parents made their decision about whether to continue life support for Christopher, they asked to talk with a Cincinnati Enquirer reporter in hopes that their story would help promote organ donations.

Christine and James Frank talk about their sons and their heart-wrenching decision.
(Ernest Coleman photo)

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The decision to take Christopher -- the boy she'd always called "Critter" -- off life-support machines was horrific but clear, Christine said.

"We could have kept him the way he was right now, but that's not a life for my child," she said, a few minutes after speaking with doctors. "When you're faced with no hope, you cling to another hope -- that another mother can stand here and hear good news."

She emerged about 3 p.m. from the small room tucked in a hallway off the intensive care unit waiting room, where doctors had explained the situation to her and her husband, James Michael Frank. As her relatives quickly surrounded her, she said in a voice that rose to almost a tear-edged shout, "Christopher is going to go join James."

She imagined her sons in death as they were in life -- the Army brats who'd been each other's best buddy through the years of travel in Europe and the States; the brothers who argued but never allowed a wedge.

"James is saying, 'Come on, Chris -- I'm waiting for you,' " Christine said. "That's just like him."

Chris Frank
James Frank
Sharing the waiting room were members of Cora Clinger's family. The 94-year-old woman was a passenger in the van that hit James' car. Doctors worked for about five hours in surgery Thursday to repair her injured legs and hips. She was in serious condition Thursday night.

The two sets of families shared their emotions, crossing the jumble of waiting-room chairs and end tables to hug each other as each update emerged.

Tragedy unfolds

The phone call came at 7:20 p.m. Tuesday, telling the Franks their children were in critical condition at University

Hospital. By then, James had been in and out of surgery to repair internal damage but remained unconscious. Their parents never saw either son awake again.

Before midnight that night, they knew James was not going to make it. At 9:30 a.m. Wednesday, he died, and his parents signed their first set of transplant-permission papers. On James' driver's license, he carried the notation that he wanted to be an organ donor. He had told his parents it was important to him, an essential key to ensuring a potential donor's wishes are followed.

"He made his decision, and I followed through," Christine said.

The young men had left their Union Township home Tuesday about 3:15 p.m. James was driving Christopher to his second day of work at El Coyote restaurant in Northern Kentucky. Their mother remembers the boys bickering over money.

"I told them, 'Be nice to each other,' and 'be careful,' " she said. "James said, 'Boy, don't we make you proud, Mom?' and I said, 'Yeah, you do. I'm always proud of you.'

"They were good kids. They did not run the streets. They did not do drugs. They did not drink," she said. "James and Christopher both thought they would live forever. . . . I took care of them the best I could. You hug 'em, kiss them. But it's not the same when they're laying there and can't hug you back."

They were the only children for the Franks, who suffered three miscarriages before and between their sons' births.

In the hour before Christopher's final brain scan, the Franks brought friends and relatives into his room to visit him, encouraging people to squeeze his hand and talk to him on the tiny hope he would respond.

"If you're going to jump, now's a good time to do it," whispered Christopher's father, 39, his head bent over his son's ear. "You're a good boy. You just do your best."

"You go when you want to go," Christine, 39, said softly.

"If you want to be with James, you go."

"But we want you here, too," finished his father. "He hears us, I know he does."

About 7 p.m. Thursday, Christopher was removed from the respirator helping him breathe. He lived until 7:39 p.m.

His kidneys, eyes, bone marrow, heart valves and tissue will be taken to use as transplants. Neither boy's heart could be saved because of their injuries and manner of death, transplant officials said.

"I'm doing the right thing," Christine said. "It could have been Christopher laying in there and needing something.

"They are getting a great gift -- my sons."

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