Trips of Hope and Flights of Fancy

December 5th 2019 we got the call we have been waiting for since October 17th. There was a liver that might work for my husband. We were told when we were accepted to the list that we had to be within a three hour drive to the hospital, so we have hung around the state. At 10:45pm we got the call. Neither of us slept much that night. We set the alarm for 5am because we needed to be there by 8am. We showered, coffied and hit the road early because of the undependable traffic and wound up there an hour early. After the check-in process he found himself in a bed and having about 29 vials of blood taken, the transplant intern asking him questions and telling him the risks and the anesthesiologist explaining about pain management. When all was said and done we sat in a semi darkened room waiting, and waiting and…

I’m not exactly sure what was going through his mind because he chose to lay back in that bed and let his eyes drift shut. But I know what I was thinking. He could die that day. The operation might not go as planned – which they explained some contingencies for like leaving him open for 24 hours and then going back and finishing up, or there could be infection, all sorts of lovely things that, by law they are required to tell you and you must sign a paper that says you agree to the surgery anyway.

One thing is for sure when ever a piece of another’s body becomes yours of any dimension, you notice. Case in point: my husband needed 6 bags of blood about 5 years previous and for two to three months after that he was complaining about not feeling like himself, like something was wrong, but he didn’t know what, just that he felt ‘weird’. So I did some research and it turns out that it is quite common after an organ transplant to wake up craving foods you never even liked before and having unexplainable emotions, ones that don’t fit to you or your situation.

The cell memory phenomenon, while still not considered 100 percent scientifically-validated, is still supported by several scientists and physicians. The behaviors and emotions acquired by the recipient from the original donor are due to the combinatorial memories stored in the neurons of the organ donated.

There have been several real-life cases that support the cell memory theory. Claire Sylvia, a heart transplant recipient who received the organ from an 18-year-old male that died in a motorcycle accident, reported having a craving for beer and chicken nuggets after the surgery. The heart transplant recipient also began to have reoccurring dreams about a man named ‘Tim L.’ Upon searching the obituaries, Sylvia found out her donor’s name was Tim and that he loved all of the food that she craved, according to her book A Change of Heart.

Liver Transplant and Blood Type

In a recent case of possible cell memory, Australian girl Demi-Lee Brennan’s blood group was changed after receiving a liver transplant from her donor, reports the AFP. Nine months after the initial transplant, doctors discovered that Brennan had changed blood types and she acquired the immune system of the donor due to the stem cells of her new liver transferring over to her bone marrow. “In effect she had had a bone marrow transplant. The majority of her immune system had also switched over to that of the donor,” Michael Stormon, a hepatologist who treated Brennan at the Children’s Hospital at Westmead, reported to the AFP.

Organ Donor and Recipient Sharing

An organ donor usually remains anonymous as the hospital opts to not disclose this information to the recipient family. According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, only health care providers are allowed to share protected health information of organ donors for treatment purposes to prevent inappropriate use or disclosure.

Not only did 17-year-old Amy Tippins develop a sudden craving and liking for hamburgers following her successful liver transplant in 1993, but she also suddenly developed a deep sense of moral and civic duty and an appreciation for her community at large.

That wasn’t the strangest thing she noticed, however. She seemed to have new abilities as well. She noticed that she would wonder into hardware stores without realizing what she was doing. Also, she had knowledge of a whole range of complex do-it-yourself skills and was physically able to carry them out.

Amy had suffered from acute liver disease, which led to her requiring a new liver. She managed to arrange a meeting with the donor’s family and learned that he was a former US Marshal named Mike James. His family stated that hamburgers were one of his favorite foods, but perhaps more importantly to Amy, they said that he loved to work with his hands and had undertaken several building projects at home before his death. His family also told her that his goal in life was always to help and protect other people.

Amy believes that through the liver transplant, she has absorbed some of Mike’s personality and sense of duty as well as some of his skills.

Various theories have been proposed to explain this notion of ‘cellular memory’. This is a survey of a few prominent ones:

Little brain in the heart

In 1994, Dr Armour introduced the concept of a functional ‘heart brain (9).’ His analysis revealed that the heart has an intrinsic nervous system of its own, containing around 40,000 neurons called sensory neurites. The heart acts independently of the brain, sending and receiving meaningful messages of its own through the autonomic nervous system. It is possible that this newly discovered center of intelligence is responsible for the memory transfer. (see my previous article: Dr. Stephen Porges. His name for it is the Polyvagal System.)

Neuropeptide theory

Pharmacologist Candace Pert proposed that neuropeptides which are stored in every cell act as a sort of biochemical correlate of emotion. It was previously thought that emotions resided in the limbic system in the brain. According to Pert, neuropeptides are protein-like messenger molecules released by the brain neurons which flow through the body communicating among the nervous, immune, endocrine, muscle, and skeletal systems via blood, interstitial fluids and the central nervous system, which are all body fluids. At present, about 100 different peptides are known to be released by various populations of neurons in the mammalian brain. Neuropeptides have also been found in the heart, which could explain some forms of cellular memories reported by heart transplant recipients (10).

Either way,  whether things go great or things go badly there is a statistical chance I may not get the same man back. I didn’t find out on Thursday because at the last moment they found out that the liver wasn’t good enough.

I’m speculating here, but when a liver comes in that could be used for transplant, if it was from the area or at the hospital, I would imagine because it was local that it would be far better to keep it in a body and that body of life support until transplant. Then when your patient was completely ready the doctors begin the first step and would open up the body and take the liver. You really never know what you are going to find until that step. It turns out that the liver wasn’t transplantable. They didn’t tell us why, there are legal reasons which we agreed to before we made the transplant list back in August.

Philosophically looked at, and really in this matter that is all I have, if I want my husband at all, a transplant is the only option. I have never met a more stubborn, willful, quadruple Scorpio in my entire life, so really, what ever ‘traits’ that liver may have, they will wind up not more than a twinkle in his eye. But in my story-bent mind the possibilities are legion and sometimes I just have to tell myself “Oh! Shut up!” (echo, echo, echo – )

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