Human Exceptionalism

Not the Twilight Zone: Or is It?

A few days ago I posted an entry here at SHS about a heart transplant recipient who fell in love with his donor’s wife and ultimately committed suicide in the same manner as the donor. I also quoted the story claiming that there were some 70 cases of transplant recipients who had apparently exhibited personality traits of their donors post surgery.

Here’s a similar but far more specific story, from a book published in 1997 by a woman named Claire Sylvia. Sylvia received the heart of an 18- 7ear-old man, and the following was excerpted in the Daily Mail:

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. 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?…
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 masculine outlook.

Hype or proof of the deeper mysteries of life? You be the judge, but I vote hype.