Is A Heart More Than A Heart?

I can’t help but wonder every time I read about transplants and how people suddenly adapt to the donors behaviour and character traits.

It is astonishing and quite creepy at the same time. Could it be that elements of one’s character or perhaps even the soul, are transplanted with the organ?

One of the recent stories that caught my eye was the heartlung transplant of a 47 year old woman in the United States.

She was suffering from a disease called primary pulmonary hypertension when she received the organs of a 18-year old boy who had been killed in a motorcycle accident. This was in 1988. She made an astonishing recovery and also seemed to behave a lot like the dead boy.

During my final lucid moments before my heart-lung transplant, I was told that a medical team would soon be leaving to “harvest” the organs that would save my life.

My surgeon, Mr John Baldwin, would remain with me, ready to begin the operation as soon as he was notified that the donor’s heart and lungs had been removed. But by this time I was far too groggy to focus on these details, which was probably just as well.

Later, after my initial recovery from the operation, I began to think of more questions.

How long would this new heart keep beating? How long would these new lungs keep breathing? Would I reject my new organs?

I envisioned the new heart breaking free of its stitches and popping right out of my body.

I wondered whether Mr Baldwin had sewn it in right.

I felt it was beating deeper in my chest than my old heart had. It felt different.

When I asked the surgeon, he explained that he’d had to position my new heart farther back than the old one, to fit it in.

While I couldn’t know their identity or give them my name, I knew my donor was an 18-year-old boy who had been killed in a motorcycle accident.

Because I was the first person in the state to have such an operation, there was a lot of publicity, and two reporters came to the hospital to interview me.

One asked: “Now that you’ve had this miracle, what do you want more than anything else?” “Actually,” I replied, “I’m dying for a beer right now.” I was mortified that I had given such a flippant answer, and also surprised.

I didn’t even like beer. But the craving I felt was specifically for the taste of beer.

She also mentions she became more masculine, had dreams about the boy and generally changed her outlook in life.

It’s something we read about every now and then and seems to be quite a common “symptom” after receiving donor organs. Is it just the mind playing tricks and changing it’s attitude when faced with death or is that those people may have actually received more than flesh, blood and muscle?

If I had to guess, I would say the mind is a powerful tool and those people may not initially notice their change in behaviour but I reckon the brain had it programmed all along.

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