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MILWAUKEE — Two years ago, in the wake of tragedy, Inica Nichols turned to her kids for help.
Her son, 14-year-old Da'Quan, had been killed in a car crash. Inica was beside herself with grief, devastated by the loss of a child she remembers as a sweet-natured homebody. She had to make a decision: What should be done with Da'Quan's organs? She looked to her other children, hoping they might steer her in the right direction.
They were unanimous: If donating Da'Quan's organs had a chance of helping others, then they should do it. And so they did.
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This week, Nichols sat down to Thanksgiving lunch with four kids who might not be alive today were it not for the Nichols family. The kids — two boys, two girls — were all patients two years ago at the Children's Hospital of Wisconsin, where doctors performed the high-stakes transplants. (A fifth child, the recipient of a new heart, died after the procedure.)
"It's shocking. I'm overwhelmed," Nichols said on Tuesday at the hospital, which hosted the luncheon. "I'm speechless."
Auden Evensen, 6, who received part of a liver, said he felt thankful for the "guy who saved my life." His mother, Kerri Evensen, said nothing could ever express the gratitude she feels for the Nichols family.
"We think of their son as Auden's absolutely hero," she said, adding that Auden would care for his new liver so "their son can continue to live on through Auden."
Dr. Thomas Sato, the CEO of the children's specialty group at the hospital, said he also felt gratitude. "Gratitude for these families, gratitude to be able to get together with them and see the legacy of life," Sato said.
"This is a Thanksgiving meal bringing together families from very different cultural and societal areas," he said. "And it's brought together because of a donor and a family who made the toughest decision in the world."
Colleen McCarthy, the vice president of organ and tissue donation at the hospital, praised Nichols for their clear thinking after her painful loss.
"Inica had incredible courage — to say yes to donation at the worst moment in her life," McCarthy said. "In the middle of her crisis, in the middle of her devastation, she was able to think of others and say yes."
Approximately 116,000 men, women and children were on the national organ transplant waiting list as of August 2017, according to data from the Department of Health & Human Services. Twenty people die each day waiting for a transplant.
Nichols, for her part, seemed to think she had simply done what Da'Quan would have wanted.
"He liked helping others out," she said. "He put others first. ... He would be very happy. I know he is very happy."