"With When Death Becomes Life, Joshua Mezrich has performed the perfect core biopsy of transplantation—a clear and compelling account of the grueling daily work, the spell-binding history and the unsettling ethical issues that haunt this miraculous lifesaving treatment. Mezrich's compassionate and honest voice, punctuated by a sharp and intelligent wit, render the enormous subject not just palatable but downright engrossing."—Pauline Chen, author of Final Exam: A Surgeon’s Reflections on Mortality
A gifted surgeon illuminates one of the most profound, awe-inspiring, and deeply affecting achievements of modern day medicine—the movement of organs between bodies—in this exceptional work of death and life that takes its place besides Atul Gawande’s Complications, Siddhartha Mukherjee’s The Emperor of All Maladies, and Jerome Groopman’s How Doctors Think.
At the University of Wisconsin, Dr. Joshua Mezrich creates life from loss, transplanting organs from one body to another. In this intimate, profoundly moving work, he illuminates the extraordinary field of transplantation that enables this kind of miracle to happen every day.
When Death Becomes Life is a thrilling look at how science advances on a grand scale to improve human lives. Mezrich examines more than one hundred years of remarkable medical breakthroughs, connecting this fascinating history with the inspiring and heartbreaking stories of his transplant patients. Combining gentle sensitivity with scientific clarity, Mezrich reflects on his calling as a doctor and introduces the modern pioneers who made transplantation a reality—maverick surgeons whose feats of imagination, bold vision, and daring risk taking generated techniques and practices that save millions of lives around the world.
Mezrich takes us inside the operating room and unlocks the wondrous process of transplant surgery, a delicate, intense ballet requiring precise timing, breathtaking skill, and at times, creative improvisation. In illuminating this work, Mezrich touches the essence of existence and what it means to be alive. Most physicians fight death, but in transplantation, doctors take from death. Mezrich shares his gratitude and awe for the privilege of being part of this transformative exchange as the dead give their last breath of life to the living. After all, the donors are his patients, too.
When Death Becomes Life also engages in fascinating ethical and philosophical debates: How much risk should a healthy person be allowed to take to save someone she loves? Should a patient suffering from alcoholism receive a healthy liver? What defines death, and what role did organ transplantation play in that definition? The human story behind the most exceptional medicine of our time, Mezrich’s riveting book is a beautiful, poignant reminder that a life lost can also offer the hope of a new beginning.
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About the Author
Table of Contents
Note from the Author ix
Milestones in Transplantation xi
Part I Out of Body
1 A Perfect Organ 3
2 Puzzle People 11
Part II The Making of a Transplant Surgeon
3 The Simple Beauty of the Kidney 35
4 Skin Harvest 53
5 Kidney Beans: Making Kidney Transplant a Reality 67
Part III Expanding the Horizon Beyond the Simplicity of the Kidney
6 Open Heart: The Invention of Cardiopulmonary Bypass 103
7 Hearts on Fire: Making Heart Transplant a Reality 130
8 Sympathy for the Pancreas: Curing Diabetes 163
9 Prometheus Revisited: Liver Transplants and Thomas Starzl 178
Part IV The Patients
10 Jason: The Secret Is to Live in the Present 209
11 Lisa and Herb: Should We Do Liver Transplants for Alcoholics? 222
12 Nate: The Selection Meeting, or Who Gets an Organ and Why? 239
13 Michaela: We Are All the Same on the Inside 255
Part V The Donors
14 As They Lay Dying 271
15 Healthy Donors: Do No Harm 292
Part VI Today and Beyond
16 Complications 309
17 Xenotransplantation: From One Species to Another 322
18 So, You Want to Be a Transplant Surgeon? 329
Selected Bibliography 357