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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: The Reader (04/15/10)

TITLE: Armchair Transformation
By Emily Gibson


I was eight years old in June 1963 when the Readers’ Digest arrived in the mail inside its little brown paper wrapper. As usual, I sat down in my favorite overstuffed chair with my skinny legs dangling over the side arm and starting at the beginning. I read the jokes, the short articles and stories on harrowing adventures and rescues, about pets that had been lost and found their way home, and then toward the back came to the monthly book excerpt: “The Triumph of Janis Babson” by Lawrence Elliott.

Something about the little girl’s picture at the start of the story captured me right away–she had such friendly eyes with a sunny smile that partially hid buck teeth. This Canadian child, Janis Babson, diagnosed with leukemia when she was only ten, in spite of all efforts to stop the illness, died in 1961. The story was written about her determination to donate her eyes after her death, and her astounding courage facing the inevitable. Being nearly the same age, I was captivated and petrified at the story, amazed at Janis’ straight forward approach to her death, her family’s incredible support of her wishes, and especially her final moments, when (as I recall 47 years later) she sat upright in her hospital bed and exclaimed “Mama, Papa, I see the angels coming!” And then she was gone. I cried buckets of tears, reading and rereading that death scene. My mom finally had to take the magazine away from me and shooed me outside to go run off my grief.

How could I run and play when Janis no longer could? It was a devastating realization that a child my age could get sick and die, and that God allowed it to happen.

Yet this story was more than just a tear jerker for the readers. Janis’ final wish was granted –those eyes that had seen the angels were donated after her death so that they would help another person see. Janis had hoped never to be forgotten. Amazingly, she influenced thousands of people who read her story to consider and commit to organ donation, most of whom remember her vividly through that book excerpt in Readers’ Digest. I know I could not sleep the night after I read her story and determined to do something significant with my life, no matter how long or short it was. Her story influenced my eventual decision to become a health care provider. She made me think about death at a very young age as that little girl’s tragic story could have been mine and I was certain I could never have been so brave and so confident in my dying moments.

Out of the recesses of my memory, I recalled Janis’ story a few months ago when I learned of a local child who had been diagnosed with a serious cancer. I could not recall Janis’ name, but in googling “Readers’ Digest girl cancer story”, through the miracle of the internet I rediscovered her name, the name of the book and a discussion forum that included posts of people my age who had been incredibly inspired by Janis when they read this same story as a child. A number went on to be trained as professionals working with organ donation.

The written word can transform the life of the reader. In this case, there is no question: that summer afternoon spent reading a remarkable story in an arm chair changed me forever.

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This article has been read 513 times
Member Comments
Member Date
Angela M. Baker-Bridge04/22/10
It's wonderful how many good things came from her young life. Thanks for sharing this.
Charla Diehl 04/23/10
God uses so many ways to touch and speak to us. How remarkable that at the age of 10, Janis' story made such an impact on your life--and others too.
Donna Wolther04/23/10
What a memorable reading experience for you and the donor who received her eyes also. A wonderful story, thank you for sharing.
Barbara Lynn Culler04/23/10
Amazing how stories can transform our whole lives!
Beth LaBuff 04/25/10
Your story is fascinating. What a gift can be given, even in the midst of sorrow. Thank you for writing this!