Like the splitting of the atom, a botched robbery in a place most people have never heard of produced a worldwide fallout that continues to this day. Italians called it l'effetto Nicholas-the Nicholas effect-because, in the first few days after his death, the number of people signing organ donor cards there quadrupled. But the effect grew to proportions and took on shapes we could never have foreseen and, as it did, Maggie and I-and Eleanor too-made it our job to make it grow still more.
I remember saying to someone at the time that I wanted to squeeze the last drop of good out of this miserable affair. "Don't think of it like that," she said. "Think of it as a trickle turning into a stream, turning into a torrent, into a river and then into a flood." And that is how I do think of it now, thanks to the myriad demonstrations of human solidarity it has brought.
Hundreds and hundreds of people wrote letters that combined dejection at the cause and jubilation at the results. Strangers offered whatever help came naturally to them. The world's media dissected the story and found lessons for all mankind. Awards that in previous years went to some of the world's greatest thinkers and humanitarians were given in the name of a small boy who couldn't even do cursive writing. Men and women, boys and girls performed inspirational acts that had nothing to do with organ donation, but simply reflected a desire to pay back to the world something they vaguely felt they owed. And many people, who had scarcely thought about it before, realized with a shock that every year thousands of families, just like theirs, lost a member because other families, also like theirs, didn't donate the organs their loved ones no longer needed. Every response added a little to the flow.