Friday, December 03, 1999

Transplants firmly rooted

Franks family, sons' organ recipients make connection

The Cincinnati Enquirer

James and Christine Frank put up their Christmas tree the day after Thanksgiving, in honor of their sons.
(Saed Hindash photo)
| ZOOM |
        UNION TOWNSHIP — Life and death became relative terms a year ago today, though no one realized it at the time.

        James and Christine Frank of Clermont County — whose two teen-age sons died a year ago Thursday and today following a Dec. 1, 1998, car crash — are now forever relatives with a middle-age Price Hill woman who sends postcards from her travels.

        And with a young Piqua, Ohio, woman whose emotions melt at the sight of a simple high school diploma that isn't even hers.

        This is what James and Christopher Frank, and their parents' willingness to donate the boys' organs, have contributed to life through death.

Christine Frank kisses her son Christopher before life support was switched off.
| Dec. 4 story |
Carol Schumacher received a kidney from Christopher.
| Dec. 22 story |
Stephanie Weigel received a cornea from James.
| Dec. 16 story |
        For the Franks, the year's heartbreak has been a shifting canvas. Each day a new brush stroke, a connection to the organ recipients whose lives were changed the day the Franks' world collapsed.

        They're family now.

        “I lost my two sons, but I gained so many people in my life,” Mrs. Frank said Thursday. “I don't regret the decision, not one bit.”

        A year ago today, physicians at Christ Hospital told her and her husband that Christopher was brain-dead and had no chance for recovery. The previous day, James, a high school senior, was pronounced dead.

        That's when the dead boys' lives, in a sense, took flight.

        The parents' story, featured in Enquirer articles throughout the year, had an impact that reached far beyond Greater Cincinnati.

        “At the time last year,” said Mark Sommerville, assistant director of LifeCenter's organ donor program, “we received phone calls from across the United States from people who had seen the story, who wanted donor information. To this day, people will still mention them.”

        The Frank boys were 18- and 15-year-old Glen Este High School students when their car crashed on Interstate 275. In the wrenching days that followed, their parents struggled with the fate of their only sons but not the fate of what to do next.

        They agreed to donate the boys' organs to total strangers desperate to become transplant recipients.

        A year ago today, Carol Schumacher, 65, of Price Hill, was a retired accountant suffering a debilitating kidney ailment. She had by then endured the emotional roller coaster of two failed transplants since 1988. Her world had slowed to a crawl.

        Then came the news about the Frank tragedy. Mrs. Schumacher received 15-year-old Christopher Frank's kidney and has had no medical complications since.

        Her love of travel was restricted by the need to undergo kidney dialysis every other day for four hours. This year, her schedule unencumbered, she visited Florida, Indiana, West Virginia, Nashville, and Smoky Mountain National Park in Tennessee and North Carolina.

        At each stop, she mailed a postcard to the Franks. The Franks kept each one. They are mirrors into the world their son has seen since he left this one.

        “Maybe I'll call her,” Mrs. Schumacher said Thursday of Christine Frank. “Yeah, I'm gonna call her.”

        Stephanie Weigel of Piqua, north of Dayton, Ohio, had the same thought Thursday. But that's not really news because, she tried to explain, the Franks are in her heart every day.

        The mother of a 7-year-old autistic son, Ms. Weigel received a cornea from James Frank, allowing her to see more clearly, improve her life as a mother and registered nurse, and announce something important to everyone within earshot at the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles in March.

        “Yes!” she said loudly when the clerk asked her whether she wanted to be an organ donor. “I was so proud, there were so many people in that room.”

        Her voice wavered when she spoke of the “very connected feeling” she shared with the Franks. “They're family to me,” she said. It is an emotion reciprocated.

        In June, Ms. Weigel, 32, attended what would have been James Frank's graduation at Glen Este. She had tears in her — his — eyes as she held his diploma.

        “He saw it, too,” she said Thursday. “James saw his friends. He was there. I was so proud.”

        In a sense that the Franks find very real, the boys went traveling after the graduation ceremony, and to a Reds game, and to the eye doctor, and a Backstreet Boys concert and they saw the world.

        Their parents are convinced of this much: Their sons' lives ended a year ago this week, but they obviously didn't stop.

        Going stronger than ever, actually.

        For information on organ donation, call the LifeCenter at (513) 558-5555.

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