Giving the gift of life

By Tom Archdeacon
Updated: November 27, 2010

Carolyn Henry Glasby

Carolyn Henry Glasby

DAYTON — A lot of folks may be looking back on Thanksgiving Day as the most recent example that the Cincinnati Bengals can do nothing right.

With another error-filled performance Thursday night — this one in a 26-10 loss to the New York Jets at the new Meadowlands stadium — the Bengals have now lost eight games in a row.

And for the first time in the franchise’s 43-year history, they finished October and November of the same season without winning a single game. And yet the Bengals memory I’m taking from Thanksgiving Day is quite the opposite of all that.

It’s a heart-warming story — once so sad and now quite uplifting — that is wrapped in Bengals stripes and is about doing something so wonderfully right.

As part of its Thanksgiving Day football coverage, CBS did a story on its NFL pregame show about Carolyn Henry Glasby — the mother of Chris Henry, the Bengals receiver who died last December after falling from a moving vehicle — and how her decision to donate her 26-year-old son’s organs saved four people’s lives.

The CBS story centered around Henry’s mom coming to Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte, N.C. — where her son had been brought after his injury and where most of the transplant surgeries took place — and meeting the four recipients (Brian Polk, Donna Arnold, James Benton, and Thomas Elliot) and their families for the first time.

They shared embraces and stories and then a Thanksgiving dinner.

It was such a heart-tugging moment that CBS pregame host James Brown was brought to tears and fellow analyst Boomer Esiason — who, with a son suffering from cystic fibrosis, is acutely aware of the pressing need for organ donations — had to briefly take over for him.

“I think about Chris Henry every day,” said Elliott, who received both of Henry’s lungs. “And I think about his family.”

Henry’s mom said when her son was born, his grandmother had a vision.

Putting a football cushion she’d made in his hands, she said, “One day he is gonna be somebody.”

And now — more than from all those catches and all those touchdowns he made as an especially-gifted football player — he is just that:

He’s not only a savior to four people and their families, but he’s provided a familiar face to encourage others to become organ donors.

Benton who received a new liver said he had been given six months to live. Polk — who received a kidney — said he couldn’t ever make plans for the future because he was too busy just trying to live from one day to the next.

Arnold — who got Chris’ pancreas and one of his kidneys — said she was told if she didn’t get a transplant, she could expect just one thing: Death.

That thought underscored a grim statistic: 18 people a day die waiting for a transplant that never comes.

One of the most touching parts of the video came when Henry’s mom walked into the room with the families and they all applauded her as her tears — for the first time ever, she said — began to flow

As the group gathered around her, Mrs. Glaspy said, “People of faith believe that people journey into one’s life for a reason. Of course, my family will never be the same, but it will also never be bigger. And for that, on this and every other day, I will truly, truly be forever thankful.”

The person who summed things up best was Arnold’s husband, who said: “Life is not about the breaths you take, but the moments when you take breaths away.”

This was one of those moments.