School started this past week at Pacific Union College and on Thursday morning our first colloquy speaker was Dr. Leonard Bailey, of Baby Fae heart transplant fame. I recalled the controversy in 1984 that surrounded Loma Linda University and a doctor there who had transplanted a baboon’s heart into a newborn baby girl. Before the term viral became common, this story went viral.
I wasn’t sure what to expect this past week, in the days leading up to his talk. The first colloquy is always one of pomp and circumstance, with all the faculty marching in wearing their regalia, a loud organ laboring to increase the drama. It turned out that I enjoyed the talk, with two important elements standing out.
Element 1 – The Pioneer Angle
The pioneer moniker is heard somewhat frequently at PUC, since our athletic teams are known as the Pioneers, and this is the theme that was used to introduce Dr. Bailey. During his presentation he shared many video clips that brought you back to when the story was actually unfolding. Ted Koppel, Diane Sawyer, and other major media outlets covered the story from every perspective. Interviews and articles referred to Bailey as Dr. Frankenstein. Animal activists had a field day. If you were old enough in 1984, then you can remember what a big deal the procedure was.
I had forgotten that, without drastic intervention, 100% of newborns with a condition known as hypoplastic left heart syndrome will die. Bailey explained how if ever a disease merited transplant attention this condition certainly qualified. And so he outfitted a lab at Loma Linda and for eight years he worked with transplant techniques on baby goats and monkeys. The Baby Fae procedure ultimately led to human-to-human baby heart transplants, with infants growing up to lead normal lives as adults. Over 500 of these heart transplants have since taken place at Loma Linda, with receivers of new hearts, now in their 30s, living productive lives. Pretty amazing!
Bailey seemed to be a pretty humble guy to me (either that or he knows what humble is supposed to look like) as he described what it was like to be a pioneer. I was reminded of the price a person pays to be out in front. He talked about heading in a direction before others do, or even heading in a direction in spite of the blockades that others put up. He really was swimming against a strong current, yet look at all the lives that are now being saved because of his efforts.
As I listened I was reminded of Glasser’s efforts and the currents he swam against. Glasser was a pioneer in the truest sense of the word. (If I had it to do again, I think the title of the biography could include the word pioneer.) His rejection of the concept of mental illness and the labels used to transform symptoms into disease, his disavowing the therapeutic value of focusing on the unconscious mind or on past experiences, his recognition of the damaging effects of external control psychology, and the way he embraced the science of the power of choice, these and other key ideas all are testimony to his pioneering spirit. He was not necessarily unique in each of these pieces (nor was Bailey unique in his field – Does the name Christiaan Barnard ring a bell?), but the package of the ideas that Glasser assembled was incredibly unique.
Element 2 – The Donor Angle
For every newborn that receives a new heart and the life that goes with it, there is a newborn that donates that heart and the life that goes with it. For every family shedding tears of joy, there is a family shedding tears of indescribable grief.
At one point during Dr. Bailey’s talk I was overcome with emotion as this equation (a life received = a life given) hit me between the eyes. Literally. You see, I live with two donor corneas. I can see because someone (a woman from Kentucky and a man from Chicago) shared a part of their body with me. I see because they cannot. Even as I write this I am choked up. What can I say? My mother passed on a degenerative disease to me (as I now have probably passed on to my children) that was causing my eyesight to get cloudier and murkier every month. Without intervention, as the Bible says, I was “seeing through a glass darkly.”
Yet my joy at seeing clearer, seeing colors in all their gorgeous beauty, came at the expense of another. My heart goes out to the loved ones of those from whom I have benefitted. I have listed myself as a donor, although I am not sure how valuable anything is from a 60 year old. Still, if after I leave this earth I can be of help to another, I would really like to do that.
I am not gone yet, though, and if you are reading this you are not gone yet either. I encourage you to list yourself as a donor, but more importantly, I want to encourage all of us, myself included, to be a help to others while we are alive on this earth. One incredible way to help others is to live choice theory. It can be so powerful when a person lives a life of choice, rising above the slights and discomforts, acknowledging their feelings rather than being controlled by them, using the caring habits, and meeting their needs without keeping someone else from meeting theirs.
Love to all!
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