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Opinion / Analysis / Essays

December 10, 2000, Sunday

National Desk 
As Son Dies, Parents Do 'Right Thing'
By The New York Times 

CHESHIRE, Mass., Dec. 7 - At 6:30 p.m. Monday, Quinn Connally was living his passion, suited up and skating in a practice drill as part of an elite youth hockey team. Thirty hours later, his heart was in a Lear jet headed for Kentucky.

Quinn, who would have turned 13 next Tuesday, died after a puck struck him in the back of the neck under his helmet. It caused a blood vessel at the end of his brain stem to burst, cutting the blood supply to his brain.

He was pronounced dead at 11:59 the next morning, but his family was told that he was brain dead three hours earlier.

"I knew as soon as I saw him on the ice," said his father, Stephen Connally, who was at the rink at the Springfield Civic Center when the accident occurred. His worst fears were confirmed later that evening when a CAT scan at Bay State Medical Center in Springfield showed massive hemorrhaging in the head.

Prof. Frederick O. Mueller of the National Center for Catastrophic Sport Injury Research at the University of North Carolina said he had never heard of a death involving a player struck in the back of the neck with a puck. Since he started keeping records 17 years ago, Professor Mueller said, only two high school hockey players have died of injuries not related to a pre-existing condition, though that number does not include nonschool leagues.

When the time came to remove Quinn from life support, Mr. Connally and his wife, Ann, both in their early 40's, faced a wrenching decision: Should they just pull the plug or let doctors continue to ventilate their son's body while recipients for his vital organs were identified?

But for them, the way forward was clear, they said in an interview today in their home in this village in the Berkshires. Donating his organs "was just the right thing to do," Ms. Connally said.

As doctors and hospital personnel started conducting tests on Quinn's body and going down lists of potential recipients compatible with Quinn's relatively rare B negative blood, his father took an active interest in the process. "I wanted to know who he was helping," Mr. Connally said. The first potential recipient was a girl, but doctors determined that Quinn's heart was too large for her.

A 30-year-old man in Kentucky was then identified, and a Lear jet carrying the Kentucky man's surgeons set off to retrieve the heart for a transplant.

Martha Otterbeck, a clinical social worker at the hospital who counseled the Connallys, said the time between a declaration of death and removal of organs in the operating room is "very, very difficult for families."

Mr. Connally said, "Your vigil doesn't end until they take the child into the O.R."

Dr. George Lipkowitz, the director of transplantation at Bay State Medical Center and medical director of the Hartford-based Northeast Organ Procurement Organization, said that about 60 percent of the families in the Connallys' position decided to donate a relative's organs. Dr. Lip kowitz's organization handles about 50 transplants a year, and about 230 are done in New England, he said.

Sitting in their living room next to a display of their son's hockey and baseball trophies and a collection of his hockey shirts, the Connallys and their 11-year-old daughter, Tessa, spoke tearfully about Quinn. He would not be deterred by dyslexia in school, they said, pointing at that as a sign of his determination off the playing field.

"He was awkward," Ms. Connally said of Quinn, who was 5-foot-11 and 130 pounds, with size 12 feet. "He hadn't quite grown into his body, but it was clicking. It was coming."

All articles © Eric Goldscheider

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