“Hearts can break and never mend together, life can be that way.”
Back in the ’90s I read an article in, I believe, New Age Magazine, by a heart transplant surgeon about heart transplant patients and how they inexplicably sometimes took on the characteristics of the deceased heart donor. I recall the article being titled “The Heart Remembers.” The surgeon also wrote a book that I was unable to track down. The book may have been The Heart’s Code by Paul Pearson, but I’m not sure. The article was totally fascinating and every now and then in the intervening time, I have mused over what I remember of the article. There was also a very entertaining movie, Return to Me, featuring David Duchovny about a man (Duchovny) whose wife dies and her heart is transplanted into a young lady (Minnie Driver) with whom Duchovny’s character falls in love. I was a big X-Files fan and so of course, I went to see this movie.
In the last two days I’ve come across two amazing new stories about heart transplant patients that I’d like to share. Clearly, the heart is not simply a muscle that pumps blood, clearly it is much more than that. It would seem that the cells of the heart retain the emotions of their original owner.
The first is from FoxNews:
Heart Transplant Patient Kills Himself in Same Manner as Donor
HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. — A man who received a heart transplant 12 years ago and later married the donor’s widow died the same way the donor did, authorities said: of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
No foul play was suspected in 69-year-old Sonny Graham’s death at his Vidalia, Ga., home, investigators said. He was found Tuesday in a utility building in his backyard with a single shotgun wound to the throat, said Greg Harvey, a special agent with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.
Graham, who was director of the Heritage golf tournament at Sea Pines from 1979 to 1983, was on the verge of congestive heart failure in 1995 when he got a call that a heart was available in Charleston.
That heart was from Terry Cottle, 33, who had shot himself, Berkeley County Coroner Glenn Rhoad said.
Grateful for his new heart, Graham began writing letters to the donor’s family to thank them. In January 1997, Graham met his donor’s widow, Cheryl Cottle, then 28, in Charleston.
“I felt like I had known her for years,” Graham told The (Hilton Head) Island Packet for a story in 2006. “I couldn’t keep my eyes off her. I just stared.”In 2001, Graham bought a home for Cottle and her four children in Vidalia. Three years later, they were married after Graham retired from his job as a plant manager for Hargray Communications in Hilton Head.
From their previous marriages, the couple had six children and six grandchildren scattered across South Carolina and Georgia.
Cheryl Graham, now 39, has worked at several hospices in Vidalia. A telephone message left Sunday at a listing for Cheryl and Sonny Graham in Vidalia was not immediately returned.
Sonny Graham’s friends said he would be remembered for his willingness to help people.
“Any time someone had a problem, the first reaction was, ‘Call Sonny Graham,’ ” said Bill Carson, Graham’s friend for more than 40 years. “It didn’t matter whether you had a flat tire on the side of the road or your washing machine didn’t work. He didn’t even have to know you to help you.”
The second from the Daily Mail is as follows:
I WAS GIVEN A YOUNG MAN’S HEART — AND STARTED CRAVING BEER AND KENTUCKY
FRIED CHICKEN. MY DAUGHTER SAID I EVEN WALKED LIKE A MAN
By Claire Sylvia
April 9, 2008
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
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,
“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
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
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
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.
Was it possible that my new heart had reached me with its own set of tastes
and preferences? It was a fascinating idea. During those early days, I had
no idea that I would look back on this curious comment as the first of many
mysteries after the transplant.
Or that, in the months ahead, I would sometimes wonder who was
choreographing changes in my preferences and personality. Was it me, or was
it my heart?
On the fifth day, though my body was doing fine, I fell into a profound
Part of what I was experiencing was a post-operative depression, but I was
also going through the early stages of an identity crisis. I mentioned my
feelings to Mr Baldwin, but he told me not even to think about it and “just
get on with my life”.
A month later, I left the hospital and moved into a medical halfway house a
few miles away.
Now that I could eat like a normal person, I found, bizarrely, I’d developed
a sudden fondness for certain foods I hadn’t liked before: Snickers bars,
green peppers, Kentucky Fried Chicken takeaway. As time went on, a strange
question crept into my mind. Although I hadn’t thought much about my donor,
I was acutely aware that I was living with a man’s heart — and I wondered
whether it was conceivable that this male heart might affect me sexually.
Until the transplant, I had spent most of my adult life either in a
relationship with a man or hoping to be in one.
But after the operation, while I still felt attracted to men, I didn’t feel
that same need to have a boyfriend.
I was freer and more independent than before — as if I had taken on a more
My personality was changing, too, and becoming more masculine.
I was more aggressive and assertive than I used to be, and more confident as
I felt tougher, fitter and I stopped getting colds. Even my walk became more
manly. “Why are you walking like that?” my teenage daughter Amara asked.
“You’re lumbering — like a musclebound football player.” This new masculine
energy wasn’t limited to my walk. I felt a new power that I associated with
strength and vibrancy.
A certain feminine tentativeness had fallen away. My sexual preferences
didn’t change in an overt way — I remained a confirmed heterosexual — but
something had shifted deep within me.
And I could tell that others sensed it, too. I became friendly with a blonde
woman I met at a conference.
We spent time together and, when the conference was finished, I invited her
to stay for a few days.
It was innocent on my part, or so I thought, but as soon as we were alone
she made it clear that she was interested in a sexual relationship.
I declined her invitation, but her surprise at my lack of interest made me
wonder what kind of signals I had been sending out without realising it.
Around this time, I also had the most unforgettable dream of my life.
In it, I was in a grassy outdoor place, it was summer, and I was with a
tall, thin young man with sandy-coloured hair.
His name was Tim — possibly Tim Leighton, but I’m not sure.
I thought of him as Tim L. We seemed to be good friends.
As I walked away from him, I felt that something remained unfinished between
us. I returned to say goodbye and we kissed.
I seemed to inhale him into me in the deepest breath I had ever taken.
I felt like Tim and I would be together for ever. When the dream was over,
something had changed.
I woke up knowing that Tim L was my donor and that some parts of his spirit
and personality were now within me.
I wanted to check this information, but the transplant programme observed a
code of strict confidentiality.
I called Gail Eddy, the transplant co-ordinator.
Although she couldn’t tell me who my donor was, I hoped she could confirm
the name Tim L.
When I asked Gail, there was a momentary pause.
“I’m not supposed to discuss this with you,” she finally replied.
“Let it go. You’re opening a can of worms.” I was disappointed, but I
respected Gail’s judgment and assured her that I’d drop the subject.
The subject, however, refused to drop me. Some months later, while out at
the theatre, I met Fred, a rather handsome guy from Florida.
We talked about my transplant and about the donor. I wasn’t sure if Fred was
genuinely interested in my operation or if he was chatting me up, but there
was something about him I liked and I gave him my phone number.
Fred called the next morning and was eager to meet.
He said he’d been moved by my story and — bizarrely — had had a dream in
which he saw my donor’s obituary.
Together, he and I decided to go to Boston (the nearest city to the
accident) and search the newspapers for my donor’s obituary.
Fred was already there when I arrived, scrolling through the newspaper for
the week of my transplant.
We soon found the item we were searching for — an obituary for an
18-year-old who had died in a motorcycle accident.
His name was Timothy Lamirande. My dream about “Tim” was true after all.
I felt a weakness in my knees and collapsed into a chair.
The clipping mentioned five sisters and two brothers.
The family of my heart were right here on a piece of paper. Until this
moment, in a strange way I hadn’t been 100 per cent certain that the
transplant had even happened.
The process had been so otherworldly that it was easier to view it as a
But, suddenly, I knew the donor was real and that he had a family.
There was the proof: a name, an address, a town.
A few days later, I met Gail Eddy and told her what had happened.
I asked her if she thought it was possible that Tim’s name was spoken by one
of the doctors during my surgery and that it somehow permeated my
“I was wondering the same thing,” said Gail.
“But the doctors are never aware of the donor’s name.
Besides, Mr Baldwin works in near silence: not a word is spoken.”
Almost nine months later, I had another dream about “Tim”.
I felt he was doing everything but send me directions to his parents’ house,
so I decided to contact his family.
I wrote to them and they agreed to me visiting them.
I drove to Milford in the state of Maine with a close friend.
We waited in a car park where Tim’s father would meet us.
As a large brown car drove slowly into view, my stomach tightened.
Mr Lamirande was smaller than I expected and greeted us with a simple
“Hello” — not the profound moment I was expecting.
We followed him to the house.
Tim’s parents lived in a world of freshly-mown lawns and large clapboard
I was incredibly nervous, and surprised to see three of Tim’s sisters there
to greet me, too.
So there I was, with Tim’s heart inside me, sitting on Tim’s couch next to
Tim’s mother, and we were talking about the weather.
We exchanged small talk before being joined by Annie, a fourth sister, who
was closest in age to Tim.
Leaning against the mantelpiece, she looked me in the eye and said: “So tell
us how you found us.”
The only thing which interrupted my story were the exclamations of
amazement. When I’d finished, many eyes were misted over with tears. “None
of the other people who received his organs have been in touch with us,”
Tim’s sister Carla said.
I learned that in addition to his heart and lungs, the family had donated
Tim’s corneas, kidneys and liver.
Mrs Lamirande — June, as she had asked me to call her — went to another
room and returned with a framed photograph.
Sitting back on the couch, she turned the picture so I could see it.
Tim wore glasses, although I hadn’t seen him that way in my dreams.
In this photo, he looked about 14.
He was dressed in formal clothes, standing beside a priest.
But even with the glasses, I could see the sparkle in his eyes. June started
to say something about Tim when she suddenly choked up.
Now the tears flowed. I felt a bond between us like nothing I had ever
known. But I couldn’t quite comprehend this: me holding Tim’s picture in my
hands and his heart in my chest.
I paused to take a breath and Tim’s lungs filled with air.
Except that they were my lungs now.
Mine to breathe with, as I grieved with his mother next to me. June said Tim
had had a tremendous amount of energy.
His sisters described how difficult it was to baby-sit him and how he tried
to run away from them.
“He was restless,” one of them added. Perhaps it explained why I, too, now
had so much energy.
“Was he a beer drinker?” I asked. His sisters nodded.
When I told them how I had wanted a beer soon after the operation, there
were smiles all around. It was so amazing just to be there that I had to
remind myself that I had come with some specific questions.
I asked if Tim had ever had colds and whether he recovered quickly.
They told me that he was hardly ever ill, and I wondered if this explained
my new-found resilience?
I also asked if he liked green peppers.
I’d never liked them before the operation — but afterwards I loved them and
included them in virtually every meal.
His sister told me that, yes, Tim had loved green peppers — “but what he
really loved were chicken nuggets”.
This explained my trips to Kentucky Fried Chicken. I was dumbfounded.
Later that weekend, before going home, I went for dinner with the Lamirandes
at a local restaurant.
In Tim’s honour, I ordered chicken nuggets.
The conversation was light; far removed from the purpose of my visit.
“I’m not much of a correspondent,” June told me, “so I won’t be writing very
“But we want you to know that you’re welcome here any time you like.”
As we walked back to the Lamirandes’ house, June asked if I wanted to come
in for a little dessert.
Once inside, June disappeared and returned with a huge cake, decorated with
a single word in large print: WELCOME. As the mother of my heart presented
the cake to me, her face was beaming.
“Chocolate,” she said. “Tim’s favourite.”
Extracted from “A Change Of Heart – A Memoir”
By Claire Sylvia with William Novak
These stories are so amazing I can’t really add much else. I would conclude that we should pay more attention to, and have more respect for our hearts. A way in which I honor my heart is to listen to an open heart meditation by Mark Macy.