Would You Accept the Heart of a Convicted Killer?

| April 21, 2011 | 0 Comments

I hope you can find the time to comment on this subject.

Over the weekend, I received a call from Jonel of MSNBC. Jonel was following up on a story in the New York Times. The situation involved a young fugitive facing the death sentence who has volunteered to donate his organs, including his heart.

According to the State laws in Washington, fugitives are prohibited from organ donation. The state fears repercussions because it might be insinuated that courts may issue harsh sentences if the prisoner would make an acceptable donor.

Jonel had found this blog and wanted my opinion. My first reaction was to relay to her a wait list class at Columbia Pres. These classes are attended by wait list patients and recipients and spouses. The speaker was Margaret O’Flaherty, the only person to have been at Columbia Pres since their first heart transplant.

As Margaret listed her credentials she indicated that she had interviewed more than 2,300 Transplant patients. Her presentation was entitled, “The Spiritual Side of Heart Transplantation.”

After listing her credentials, one of the patients who appeared very agitated raised his hand. He told his story. He had been called by Columbia for his transplant three days earlier. Upon his arrival at the hospital, he was deternined to be too weak to have the transplant.

In fact, his condition was so deteriorated that he was admitted to the hospital. He explained to Ms. O’Flaherty that he had been lying in bed looking at the styrofoam ceiling for three days. He was convinced that he would receive the heart of a black murderer. He wanted to know what Columbia Pres was going to do about it.

The room was filled with wait list patients of various statuses and races and their spouses as well as heart transplant recipients The room became quite still. Ms. O’Flaherty informed the man that 14 years ago that question would have flabbergasted her.

However, she said that regardless of religion or beliefs, she knew that everyone in that room, including spouses, would at some time wonder what, if any, side effects the new heart might have on the recipient.

She conveyed a story that was recently published by the Daily News and The Post. The story involved a nun who received a heart transplant 3 years ago. The operation was very successful. The nun’s story was relevant because she had been interviewed by The Post and Daily News about her switch to her new job, exotic dancing.

The story lightened the room in one sense but was cause for concern with wait-listers and recipients alike. On our way to the car, I asked my bride what she thought of the exchange. As usual, Suzanne had a response. Suzy said that if I ever received a transplant, she hoped it would be from someone with half a brain.

It was a fairly quiet ride home.

Last week I had an appointment with my neurologist in Tampa. Dr. Albakri has been inspirational throughout my battles with neuropathy and myopathy.

I posed Jonel’s question to the good doctor. He stated that he and the cardiologists never agreed on an answer about this topic. He said that cardiologists often felt the heart is the organ that shapes us. In his view, the organ that differentiates us is the brain.

I tend to agree with Dr. Albakri. I told Jonel that if the murderer had offered me a heart, I would not have hesitated to accept it as long as it was healthy and the right blood type. Another story in the New York Times magazine indicated that there are 5.8 million Americans in end-stage heart disease with another 670,000 being added every year.

Can we really afford to reject young, healthy hearts? My answer is no.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this question. Please submit your feelings in the comment box at the end of the article. Include any personal information you would like. Thanks for your insight.

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