Engineering student Sanaz Nezami, 27, was rushed to the hospital last month, after what police say was a brutal beating by her new husband. She was declared brain-dead shortly afterwards. Her family was in Iran.
The nurses who cared for her looked her up online and found her family. They set up video messaging so the family could see that their daughter was being well cared for in her final days.
To the nurses, it was a profound experience. They became Sanaz’s substitute family, with family in Iran asking them to stroke Sanaz’s hair and kiss her forehead.
Hospital supervisor Gail Brandly says never in her 30-year career has someone done what Sanaz’s father did. He had nurses recite a prayer he’d written, as surgeons removed her organs for donation.
The prayer was “God, I give my daughter to you so that she may save many great lives, because we are all your children.” Sanaz’s organs saved the lives of seven people.
Brandly discusses the experience with Here & Now’s Robin Young.
Interview Highlights: Gail Brandly
On connecting the Nezami family with their daughter
“This is a parent’s worse nightmare come true. And every parent just wants to know that their child is – if they are hurt, they’re surrounded by people that care. And they want to be able to say goodbye to their child and they should have that opportunity. So we were bound and determined that we were going to make that possible. And this was a truly loving family, and there were many of them. I actually met many of the family members, and then eventually, it got to the point where we did discuss the organ donation. The moment I looked at this girl’s resume, I knew that she would want to be an organ donor. And her family didn’t hesitate. They said yes right away and truly believed in helping others.”
On what the experience meant to the nurses involved
“It really gave us a lot of faith in humanity. [The family] really taught us about the Muslim traditions, and they really taught us a lot about the humanity on the other side of the world. We’re basically the same people, and that’s the message that this family wants to get across and that’s what we believe. It was a pretty profound experience. I think that every nurse wants to be involved in situations that help people, and I just feel a great sense of inner peace that we were able to provide the family with good care at the end of life and the grieving process.”
“I’ve been a nurse for 30 years and I’ve been involved in organ donation – I’m actually the organ donation liaison at our hospital – and I’ve never had a family give me a prayer to read in the operating room. He asked us to read to the transplant team when they arrived before the recovery began, ‘God I give you my child, so that she may save many great lives, for we are all your children.’ And for a father, that just really gives you a sense of his character.”
On the impact of the organ donation
“It’s not just the seven lives that [Sanaz Nezami] saved, she also helped thousands of people. For one thing, everyone that loves those people are all affected by this transplant. She’s caused awareness, and has really done great things. I mean, she’s a hero.”
ROBIN YOUNG, HOST: It’s HERE AND NOW.
Well, diplomats squabble over Iran. There was recently a unique connection between that country and a hospital in Michigan. A story one nurse told us is about everything that’s right with the world except for how it begins. And it begins tragically, with 27-year-old Iranian student Sanaz Nezami arriving at Marquette Hospital last month after what police say was a severe beating from a husband she’d met online.
Sanaz was a student at Michigan Technological University. She’d just been in the U.S. for three weeks. She was studying advanced engineering. And she was pronounced brain dead shortly after she arrived in the ER, her family 6,000 miles away in Iran. So her nurses using video messaging managed to bridge a geographical divide as well as a cultural one.
Gail Brandly is a nurse supervisor at Marquette Hospital. Gail, you were there, absolutely no hope for Sanaz, brain dead, no family. So you first researched her online and found out what?
GAIL BRANDLY: I figured she was probably a student, and so I thought perhaps she would be on LinkedIn or Facebook or something like that. So I found an absolutely beautiful resume, complete with a picture, that just showed me that she was a fabulous person. She was fluent in many languages. She was into the environment. She was going to be – get her doctorate degree in environmental engineering. She did a lot of volunteer work. And she just was an extraordinary human being.
YOUNG: Yeah. You also found out that she was a Muslim, and made a decision right away with the nurses there as to how she would be treated?
BRANDLY: Well, we wanted to be culturally sensitive to her. So I also Googled Muslim and – to see what traditions are important, that she be cared by women, to respect her modesty.
YOUNG: You also had to find her family, which you did. These are questions also to things you can’t just pick up and come quickly. So as this is all happening, how are you feeling about this? I mean, here’s – she’s essentially a child, 27, a child so far away from home.
BRANDLY: Well, I felt like this poor little thing – I mean, we also just wanted to hug her and hold her and rock her because she is so far from home, and she doesn’t have anybody immediately available from her family. And we really have a philosophy at our hospital that we treat people like family because it really could be your family coming through the door at any time. And if we could connect with her family, it would give them a lot of peace of mind to see the people that are taking care of her.
YOUNG: Well, first, you connected with the family through telephone. And even though her sister spoke English, excellent we understand, it was impossible for them to comprehend what had happened so suddenly to their daughter. So you needed someone who spoke Persian. There was an uncle in Toronto. You called him. And then finally, Sherilyn(ph), who’s another nurse, had the idea of using Skype. Let’s Skype them.
BRANDLY: It was actually Yahoo! video messenger. And I thought brilliant because you can convey compassion over the phone, but there’s nothing like actually seeing compassion. And our nurses were very comfortable having the video on so the family could see them care for her, so that they would just know that the people surrounding her actually really were kind, caring people who treated her with respect, provided kind, loving touch. They actually asked the nurses to stroke her hair, to kiss her forehead and provide that loving touch that they normally would. And it wasn’t just one nurse that they were able to connect with. It seemed like every nurse that came on just really wanted to help this poor family that was helpless 6,000 miles away. And the family could really see and feel the compassion from each and every nurse.
YOUNG: Oh, it sounds incredible. I mean, you said that when you saw her, you want – you all want to hug her and kiss her. And you not only got to do that, but you got to do that for her family while they watched. I mean, oh…
BRANDLY: This is a parent’s worse nightmare come true. And every parent just wants to know that their child is – if they’re hurt, they’re surrounded by people that care. And they want to be able to say goodbye to their child, and you should have that opportunity. So we were bound and determined that we were going to do everything possible to make that happen. And then, eventually, it got to the point where we did discuss the organ donation. The minute I looked at her resume, I knew this girl would want to be an organ donor and her family didn’t hesitate. They said yes right away and they truly believed in helping others.
YOUNG: In fact, Sanaz’s mother had been killed in a car accident previously, so she wasn’t there but her father gave you a prayer for the staff and surgeons to say in the operating room?
BRANDLY: Yes. You know, I’ve been a nurse for 30 years. And I’ve never had a family give me a prayer to read in the operating room. He asked us to read to the transplant team when they arrived before the recovery began. He said: God, I give you my child so that she may save many great lives for we are all your children. I mean – and for a father, I mean, that just really gives you an idea of his character and his loving kindness towards people.
YOUNG: Well, and she did save seven other lives?
BRANDLY: She saved seven lives. There were five teams that came from four different states. Her heart, lung, live, pancreas, kidneys and intestines were recovered for transplant. They were transplanted into seven individuals all successfully, and she saved seven lives. But it’s not just the seven lives that she saved. She also – I mean, she helped thousands of people. For one thing, everyone who loves those people are all affected by this transplant. I mean, she’s a hero.
YOUNG: Well, and then it continues. Your hospital pastor there got involved. It cost thousands of dollars to send the body home to Iran. He talked to the family and suggested she be buried here, promised to visit her. The one Muslim hospital staffer provided a shroud. All those Muslim customs that you talked about with the body washing, hair braiding, were all done. And she is buried in Marquette.
You know, it’s just quite something. Given what we see on the global scale, did anyone ever say, well, this is an Iranian. You know, we’re angry at Iranians. Or did the family ever say, it must be you Americans that have done something to our daughter?
BRANDLY: Never. What the family did say to us is that we want to create understanding to the American people that Muslims are kind and caring individuals.
YOUNG: What did this do for you and the staff?
BRANDLY: Well, half of the time we were in tears. It really taught us a lot about the humanity on the other side of the world. It was a pretty profound experience. I think that every nurse wants to be involved in situations that help people, and I really feel a sense of just great inner peace that we were able to provide the family with good care at the end of life and help them with the grieving process.
YOUNG: Yeah. Well, and, of course, you also demonstrated to them the humanity here. Gail Brandly, nurse supervisor at Marquette Hospital in Michigan. Thanks so much.
BRANDLY: No problem. Thank you.
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YOUNG: And you’re listening to HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.