Yesterday, the Mail told the extraordinary story of how a heart transplant recipient in America committed suicide – just like the man whose heart he had received 12 years previously. In another extraordinary twist, it emerged that the recipient had also married the donor’s former wife.
So can elements of a person’s character – or even their soul – be transplanted along with a heart?
One woman who believes this to be the case is CLAIRE SYLVIA, a divorced mother of one.
She was 47 and dying from a disease called primary pulmonary hypertension when, in 1988, she had a pioneering heartlung transplant in America.
She was given the organs of an 18-year-old boy who had been killed in a motorcycle accident near his home in Maine.
Claire, a former professional dancer, then made an astonishing discovery: she seemed to be acquiring the characteristics, and cravings, of the donor.
Here, in an extract from her book A Change Of Heart, Claire tells her remarkable story…
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.
Eventually, Mr Baldwin said to me: “We’re going to put you under now, Claire.
“I have to remind you that it is always possible that something could go wrong, and the organs don’t arrive in good condition.
“This sometimes happens with the lungs, which are very fragile. They could be damaged during transit. Sometimes, at the last minute, things don’t work out.” I looked up at him and said: “That’s OK. Do what you have to. It’s in God’s hands now.” After that, I don’t remember anything until slowly becoming aware of a buzz of voices calling my name: “Claire, wake up. It’s over.” I awakened gently, feeling no bodily or physical sensation – nothing but pure consciousness and a cacophony of voices.
I couldn’t speak, but managed to wiggle my fingers.
Someone brought me a pen and paper, and I scribbled my question: Did I get them? “Oh yes,” the voice said. “Everything’s fine.”
Then I lapsed back into unconsciousness.
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.
It was nice to know that I still had some connection to reality.
With all my fears, though, I was just grateful to be alive.
I was also deeply thankful that a family I’d never met had made it possible for me to by-pass death and rejoin the world.
It was a humbling thought, and I wanted to be worthy of their amazing gift.
When I told Gail Eddy – the transplant programme co-ordinator – how I felt, she suggested writing to the donor’s family to express my gratitude.
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.
For some bizarre reason, I was convinced that nothing else in the world could quench my thirst.
That evening, an odd notion occurred to me: maybe the donor of my new organs, this young man from Maine, had been a beer drinker. – read more