After a Tragedy, United in Life

Two families come together at the Sharing Network to celebrate their unusual bond.

Exavier Giles listens to his father's lungs, which were donated to Mike Callahan.
Photo courtesy of Laura Avello, NJ Sharing Network

Exavier Giles was just an infant when his father, Dr. Randall “Randy” Giles, died of a brain aneurysm in 2012. This week, they reconnected—when Exavier, now 6, placed a stethoscope between the shoulders of a stranger, and listened to the breaths of the lungs that once belonged to his father.

The miraculous reunion occurred Monday afternoon at the New Providence headquarters of the Sharing Network, a federally recognized nonprofit organization that recovers organs and tissues for transplantation.

At the reunion, the Giles family met for the first time Mike Callahan and his family. Callahan, a retired equity trader, had been diagnosed with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF), a chronic and irreversible lung disease, at the age of 50. To keep him alive, doctors gave him two new lungs—both from Randy Giles.

In all, Giles’s donated organs helped save five lives; his tissue—or skin—donation helped save 50 others.

During the emotional reunion, Exavier Giles’s two older brothers, Elijah, 8, and Ethan, 11, also had the opportunity to listen to their father’s lungs inside Callahan’s chest.

“[To] have the boys see and meet someone who’s living and breathing because of him, it means everything,” said Eran Giles, the widow of Randy Giles.

Accompanying Eran and her three boys were Randy’s father, retired Superior Court Judge F. Michael Giles, and Randy’s mother, Grace, as well as three of their nieces.

At the time of his son’s death, Judge Giles already was on the board of the Sharing Network. Randy Giles had been a trauma surgeon so the family was familiar with the role of the Sharing Network. Father and son had signed up together as organ donors.

Still, it was hard for the family to accept Randy’s sudden death. “I stayed angry for a long time,” said Grace. “Your children are not supposed to leave you behind.”

The Giles clan arrived first for the reunion. After 10 minutes, in walked the Callahan family: Mike and his wife, Nancy, had travelled from their home in Providence, Rhode Island; daughter Leigh, 26, flew in from Boston. They arrived with two gift baskets of edible treats boasting “a taste of Rhode Island.”

Mike Callahan had been hospitalized for almost a year after his bilateral lung transplant in 2012 and was confined to his home for a period after the hospitalization. These days, he’s free to play golf and go grocery shopping.

After exchanging hugs and stories, the two families proceeded to the Sharing Network’s Landscape of Life Meditation Garden, where the organization unveiled a plaque honoring Randy Giles. Judge Giles, Eran and her three boys cut the green ribbon, clearing the way for rest of the group to enter the garden.

For Grace Giles, it was yet another step in the healing process. “The reason we got here is such a tragedy,” she said, “but a lot of good has come out of it.”

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