Technology helps American nurses provide comfort to Iranian family grieving from a world away

By Ed White

Associated Press

Published: Wednesday, Jan. 1 2014 2:42 p.m. MST

This recent but undated photo provided by Sara Nezami shows Sanaz Nezami. Sanaz Nazami, a vibrant 27-year-old native of Tehran, Iran who could speak three languages, wanted to pursue an advanced degree in engineering at Michigan Technological University. Instead, she was brain dead just a few weeks after unpacking her bags in a remote area of the United States, a victim of a fatal beating by her new husband in early December, according to police. With the family’s consent, her critical organs were removed on Dec. 12-13 and transplanted to seven people in five states.

Courtesy Sara Nezami, Associated Press

A nurse in a Michigan hospital kissed the patient's forehead. More than 6,000 miles away, Sanaz Nezami's family in Iran watched the simple act over a laptop computer and wept.

Nezami, a vibrant 27-year-old woman who could speak three languages, wanted to pursue an advanced degree in engineering at Michigan Technological University. Instead, she was brain dead just a few weeks after unpacking her bags in a remote area of the United States, a victim of a fatal beating by her new husband, according to police.

Nezami's time in Michigan's Upper Peninsula can be marked in days. Her impact, however, will last much longer. Technology allowed family in Iran to watch her final hours and build an emotional bond with nurses whose compassion for a stranger from an unfamiliar culture gave great comfort to shocked, grieving relatives a world away.

The family's faith in the staff led to consent for an extraordinary donation: Nezami's heart, lungs and other life-saving organs were transplanted to seven people in the U.S., a remarkable gift that occurs in less than 1 percent of all cases.

"We wanted God to perform a miracle and bring Sanaz back to life," her sister, Sara Nezami, said in a phone interview from Tehran. "But this is a miracle. Sanaz gave her life in order to give life."

A nurse who took care of Sanaz Nezami said her brief stay, especially the high-tech way of communicating with family, was "eye-opening" for staff at Marquette General Hospital.

"The family was willing to trust us to know she wasn't coming back," Kim Grutt said.

Nezami's arrival in Michigan was part of a personal odyssey that took her from Iran to Turkey to the U.S. in just months. In August, she married Nima Nassiri in Turkey and lived with him temporarily in the Los Angeles area, where he was born and raised. Her sister said the two met over the Internet.

Nezami, a native of Tehran, had a bachelor's degree in engineering and a master's in French translation. She wanted a doctorate degree in environmental engineering and settled on Michigan Tech in Houghton, about 550 miles northwest of Detroit.

The newlyweds drove their Toyota from California and found a rental home in November in Dollar Bay, a small town near campus. Nezami was familiar with cold winters in Iran, but folks in her new community still liked to remind her about what to expect on the Keweenaw Peninsula in northern Michigan's Lake Superior.

"The bank clerk told her the snow will fall until April," her sister said.

Nezami planned to take her first classes after the holidays. Meanwhile, she stayed in touch with family through email, text message and video. On Dec. 7, she asked her sister to proofread some English-to-Persian translation she was doing on the side.

"I was shocked," Sara Nezami said. "Sanaz was a very precise girl, but she omitted some lines. I asked, 'Are you OK?' She told me there was no problem."

The next day Sanaz Nezami was rushed to a hospital with severe head injuries and was transferred 100 miles to Marquette General. Police believe she was assaulted by her husband, who has been charged with second-degree murder. His attorney, David Gemignani, declined to comment.

"Her brain was so swollen and so damaged, there was no longer any blood flow," explained Gail Brandly, who supervises nurses at Marquette General.

There were other problems, too. No one knew anything about Nezami, so Brandly ran her name through Google. Suddenly, the stranger who couldn't speak for herself was coming alive through a resume posted online.

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