MANY SLEEPLESS NIGHTS: The World of Organ Transplantation by Lee Gutkind

MANY SLEEPLESS NIGHTS: The World of Organ Transplantation

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Human interest is writ large in this eyewitness account of life before, during, and after an organ transplant. Gutkind concentrates on Pittsburgh's Presbyterian-University Hospital, the ""world's largest transplant center,"" focusing on the surgical stars, the supporting staff, and the families in residence at nearby Family House. There, relatives and patients wait for their beepers to beep--announcing the availability of a match for a dying patient's heart, liver, or kidney. Most of what you have ever read about is here: the story of the first successful kidney transplants back in the 50's, the early flurry of heart transplants, the experiments with dogs, the Jarvik heart, Baby Fae and the baboon heart, the immunosuppressive drugs, the breakthrough discovery of cyclosporine. . .and, of course, the hero surgeons, principally Thomas Starzl, the veteran leader of the pack. But what makes Gutkind's account exceptional is that it is rich in material you've not read about: the work of the coordinators and procurement personnel--the people who talk to the families of the brain dead and ask for permission to transplant organs; the staff and committees who decide what patients to accept and who gets priority; the personnel who dispatch the surgical team to fly to the site of the organ donor and who alert the home team. There are also descriptions of the kinds of heart and liver disease and the horrific symptoms that accompany them. Then there are the procedures--the organ removals, the methods of maintaining and storing the organs, and the final transplant surgery itself. . .and the aftermath: the juggling of antibiotics, steroids, and immunosuppressives; the problems of infection, rejection, retransplantation, complications. Ethical issues are raised: Foreign potentates are ready to pay cash and come equipped with ""relatives"" ready to donate organs; ""heroic"" measures are used on patients who should be given up. Gutkind is good and thorough in reporting all these areas (with some confusion at the micro levels describing cells and bacteria). But, ultimately, it is the human drama that stands out: the case studies of the successes and the failures, including the exceptional bringing together of a donor's family with a now-healthy recipient.

Pub Date: June 13th, 1988
Publisher: Norton