By Deborah McDermott
Posted Oct. 5, 2014 @ 2:00 am
ELIOT, Maine — Mary and John Pappas are spending time at a secluded cottage in central Maine this weekend, as they commemorate together in quiet and solitude the second anniversary of the death of their son, Troy, today.
In these two years since Bates College freshman and Marshwood High graduate Troy Pappas died, the couple has known moments of grace — as when they met the man who received Troy’s hand and watched him pat his baby on the head. But they have also become well acquainted with a deep-seated grief that does not get any easier to bear with the passing of time.
“I’d say it hurts just as much today as it did the day he died,” Mary said. “It’s the last thing you think of when you go to sleep at night and it’s the first thing that hits you in the morning.”
Troy Pappas was an MHS scholar athlete, who played three sports and graduated in the top 10 of his class of 2012. He had just started at Bates that fall when on Sept. 29, he fell three stories down a stairwell in his college dorm. He died six days later, on Oct. 5, after suffering severe head trauma.
But Troy, who hoped to be a doctor, had learned from his nurse mother the importance of organ donation. So before his death, both lungs, both kidneys, his liver, his pancreas and his hand were removed and later transplanted into recipients. And from these gifts of their son, the Pappases have had two remarkable encounters.
A Florida man who is today healthy after receiving one of Troy’s lungs responded to a letter the Pappases had written and placed on file with the New England Organ Bank describing Troy and inviting any recipient to contact them.
“The first time we met was kind of awkward. We didn’t know how to approach each other,” John said.
“But they were very warm, they have a beautiful family, three daughters, six grandchildren, and he was living because of Troy’s donation,” Mary said.
Since that meeting they’ve kept in touch, and the relationship has evolved “definitely into a friendship.”
The second meeting was just as powerful. Nine years after he was severely burned in the Station nightclub fire in Rhode Island in 2003, a Massachusetts man received Troy’s hand in a first-of-its-kind transplant operation at Massachusetts General Hospital. He, too, responded to the Pappases’ invitation and visited them with his fiancée and their baby this past June.
“He lost the use of his other arm in the fire and still doesn’t have the use of it,” Mary said. “So to see him pat his new baby’s head with his hand was really remarkable – he’d never been able to do that.”
The couple said they’ve since met several times with the man and his fiancée, “and they’re almost like family now.” Smiling, she remembered the time his fiancée asked, “Was Troy allergic to pineapple, because Joe is, and he never was before.”
So significant was Troy’s donations of organs that the New England Organ Bank has sponsored him as an honoree on a float in the Tournament of Roses parade this coming New Year’s Day. The national organization Donate Life has a float every year, and this year Troy will be among 72 donors nationwide who will be memorialized — and the only one from Maine.
“There will actually be a flower arrangement of his face,” said Mary, who added she, John and their 24-year-old daughter Rayna will travel to California to oversee preparation of the float along with other donor families, then attend the parade and the Rose Bowl game. Perhaps most importantly, they will meet throughout the weekend with others who have been through what they have endured.
“We think it will be pretty special, and we’re really glad we’re going away for Christmas,” John said.
“Christmas is a rough time for us,” Mary added. “I don’t decorate the house like I used to. It’s just too hard.”
They said a close-knit circle of family and loving friends has gotten them through these past two years. “They’ll keep us moving, they’ll make us laugh,” Mary said. “Without them, it would be tough.”
Still in contact with a number of Troy’s high school friends, the couple said they’ve also received letters over the years from young people they didn’t even know. “One of his study friends wrote a beautiful seven-page letter, and told me so many things he did that were funny, or cute, or quirky, that I didn’t get to see,” Mary said.
The Marshwood community has also been supportive, and the couple particularly recalls the Troy Pappas Memorial Baseball Day that was held last May, when graduates of even years and graduates of odd years played each other. “So many of his teammates came back. To see them playing ball together again and laughing — it was pretty special,” Mary said.
They haven’t been back to Bates College since Troy’s death, although the college football coach had dinner with them at their cottage getaway last year and will again this weekend. But John said they just can’t go back to campus.
“It’s tough. We should be going to Bates football games every Saturday. He would be a junior,” he said.
Mary said each day is difficult for them.
“I don’t see a light at the end of the tunnel,” she said. “I wish it would all go away. People talk about moving forward, and all we can do is just move, just keep moving. It’s all we can do. He’ll be forever young, forever good, forever giving. That’s all we have left.”
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