A Sept. 24 Metro article about the traffic death of a Montgomery County teenager contained an incorrect name for the Bethesda middle school attended by one of the victim's brothers. It is Westland Middle School, not Westlake. (Published 9/25/04)
The day after Sam Morris was hit by a car on his way to school, and 11 hours and 20 minutes after the Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School sophomore died in a Suburban Hospital room, a transplant surgeon in North Carolina got the call. It was 9:30 p.m. Wednesday. There was a heart available in Bethesda.
By 2 a.m. yesterday, the surgeon had boarded a private Lear jet, flown to Dulles International Airport and rushed in an ambulance to an operating room at Suburban.
And a few hours later, 15-year-old Samuel Morris had given his heart to a teenager in North Carolina.
His liver was transplanted in a patient from the Washington area who had "less than a week to live," Sam's mother said, and his pancreas and a kidney went to a distant relative in Pennsylvania, a father of two in his mid-thirties who had been told that he would be dead in less than a year without a transplant.
One of Sam's uncles, a priest who lives in the same Pennsylvania town, suggested that the relative become one of Sam's "directed donations." Yesterday morning, the recipient's father stopped by the priest's office and "collapsed in his arms with gratitude," said Laura Decker, Sam's mother.
"It's nice to know he didn't quite die," Decker continued, recalling when Sam noticed the "DONOR YES" symbol on her Maryland driver's license and she took advantage of that "teachable moment" to tell him, "If at any point in your life you can be helpful, you should do it." He decided, she said, that organ donation was only logical.
Sam had been 15 for only a month, but he "was already 5-foot-10 and broad-chested and broad-shouldered" -- a teenager big enough to "look like he could be cocky," his mother said. Instead, she said, he was "so empathetic," someone who "always zeroed in on the underdog and the little kid."
Decker remembered a christening the family attended recently, and the pack of 4- to 6-year-old girls who "attacked" Sam and spent the next hour smearing lipstick on his face and polishing his fingernails.
He was just as kind with his older cousin, a severely retarded young man who, Decker said, "loved to stand in front of Sam and stroke his face for minutes."
His academic talents lay in computers and writing, but when he and his mother started talking about possible career choices last year, "he said he wanted to be a teacher because he really liked children," Decker said.
He and his two younger brothers, Ben and Charlie Morris, spent their early years in Westminster, Carroll County, where they attended a Catholic school. Sam spent the second semester of his freshman year at Oakland Mills High School in Howard County before they moved into Decker's fiance's house in Bethesda last month.
Aug. 30 was Sam's first day at Bethesda Chevy-Chase High School. His mother's wedding was planned for this fall, and she had wanted to settle her sons in school before then.
They were "still putting down roots," Decker said yesterday: She hadn't yet changed their pediatrician; the younger boys haven't yet met friends on their street; and Sam was to have attended his first karate class last night in Bethesda.
Since the accident -- which happened just before sunrise Tuesday as Sam crossed Massachusetts Avenue to catch a school bus -- the sympathy cards have been landing on their doorstep, and neighbors have been bringing food. Decker finds the gestures enormously gratifying, even as she adds, "It's a horrible, horrible way to discover community."
Decker said she researched bus stops for her three boys, who had been assigned to different Montgomery County schools, and the only one she was aware of for the high school near their home required that Sam cross Massachusetts Avenue.
"What happened to Sam could happen to anyone in the area," she said, adding that she worries about her middle-school son, who walks along Massachusetts Avenue to get to Westlake Middle School. A stoplight and crosswalk help guide traffic, but still "the kids dash across" the four-lane road, she said.
Montgomery police are continuing to investigate the accident, and no charges have been filed against the car's driver.
Decker said that the driver of the 1995 Saturn has called her but that she did not speak with him and doesn't think she can.
"I don't know if I'll ever be ready," she said, then paused.
Sam's heart would be big enough for that conversation, she added, but hers, right now, just isn't.