Friday, April 22

The Heart Transplant

The class sat in attention. Although most of them would quickly admit that Anatomy was one of their more challenging classes, they sat, as if spellbound. These medical students knew that their professor, Dr. Finley, was brillant and fair. Moreover, he managed to make this required class interesting, even though the workload often required late nights. Today's class was no different. Appreciating the fact that everyone was listening, Dr. Finley began to share a case study.

Meagan Clark was born with a hole in her heart. At the age of 15, she had been in and out of hospitals and operations. The doctors did what they could to fix her and often their methods would work, for a time. For a short while, Meagan could believe that she was finally the normal child or teen that she wanted to be. She'd run, laugh, and live with abandonment. A little too much abandonment, according to her parents. Her parents, Teri and Ryan, were obviously concerned for their daughter's wellbeing and often tried to discourage her from any activity that appeared strenuous or taxing. They knew, from experience, how quickly Meagan's energy could crash, causing her to be bedridden for days.

When Meagan was younger, the surgeries would give her strength for longer stretches of time. However, the older she got, the stretches of full strength got shorter and shorter. Shortly after her 11th birthday, the doctors determined that Meagan needed to be added to the transplant list, for a new heart. The team of doctors that knew Meagan were baffled by the fact that none of the surgeries seemed to help. The surgeries were standard procedures and many of their patients had gone on to have normal lives. The fact that Meagan's heart seemed to continue to weaken over time, was a mystery.

Over the next four years, Meagan got weaker and weaker, as the family waited and prayed and yearned for a matching transplant. One heart did become available when Meagan was 13 but it proved to not be a compatible match for her, causing the doctors to cancel the surgery at the last minute. Two years after that and the family was still waiting. Meagan was now at the point of needing full-time hospital care and the doctors believed that they only had a weeks left to secure a heart for her.

During this time, a man started helping out at the hospital. He volunteered with the chaplain's office, made rounds visiting the patients, offered this translation skills when needed, and would help in any way possible. Naturally, he quickly met Meagan and her parents and could regularly be found taking Ryan out for coffee, chatting and praying for Meagan, or bringing in a small snacks for her parents to eat.

One day, near the end, a doctor confided to this man that unless something happened very soon, Meagan would likely die. Two days later, the man returned, with a stack of papers in his hand, and offered the team of doctors a possible suggestion to save Meagan. The man offered his own heart. He provided all the medical papers he could scrape together to prove that he was in perfect health. He provided all the legal documents to release the hospital of any liability over his own life, while stating that he was of sound mind. His proposal was to give Meagan his heart and he would take hers. The doctors resisted this man's request but for every argument they made, the man seemed to have an answer. So finally, the doctors notified the family that a donor had been found. The next day, the transplant occurred.

With that, Dr. Finley got up and walked over to the podium and asked the class their thoughts on the story. A bit in shock over what they had heard, the students struggled at first to formulate their thoughts but within seconds the class had a great discussion going. Finally, after a few minutes, one student asked the question they were all anxious to know...what happened to Meagan and the man?

Dr. Finley shared that the heart proved to be an exact match for Meagan. After the transplant, she healed quickly...surprisingly quickly...and is now a normal 18 year old, attending high school. The doctors have cleared her for all activities and no longer need to see her, something that doesn't happen often with transplant patients. But Meagan's healing was so complete that without the long scar on her chest and her immense patient folder, the doctors would think that she had been born with that heart.

As for the donor, the man accepted Meagan's heart as smoothly as the operation could go but within hours, the man died. The doctors did what they could to save him but putting an infected, underperforming heart into someone else caused them to have low expectations from the start. In their minds, Meagan had been destined to die and now this man was destined to die. With sadness, and even a sense of having let the man down, one doctor, Dr. Adams, carted his body down the morgue. When he got there, the mortician was busy with another body so Dr. Adams signed in the body and then left.

Three days later, Dr. Adams ran into the mortician, in the cafeteria, and casually remarked on the one man's body that he had dropped off. Confused, the mortician claimed that he had found no such body with that patient's name. Both of them marched down the morgue, verified the check-in page, and then searched the morgue only to come up empty. Well...mostly empty. All they recorded finding, back in the corner, was an empty gurney with a white cloth, neatly folded on top, that didn't look like it had been used.

A silence settled over the class. Seconds later, the bell rang signalling the end of the class period. No one seemed ready to move or even aware the bell had sounded. They sat, not sure what to think. Never had they heard such a story. Was it true? Was this man possibly alive? How could that even be possible? In their stunned reflection, nobody seemed to notice that Dr. Finley had gathered his notes, briefcase, and jacket, and had stepped out of the room.

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