Cellular Memory

"You don't have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body." (C.S. Lewis)

Our friend Robert Svoboda was just staying with us for a few days and asked if I had discovered any more about the memories carried over from a donor to a recipient during organ transplants, which are known as 'cellular memories'. Two recent accounts came to mind.

The first concerns a friend in Scotland who lost her sixteen-year-old son in a car crash in the 1980's and successfully received a liver transplant last year. Straight after the transplant she instinctively knew that the liver donor was a teenage lad who had been killed in a car crash in the same city as her son had. All of her instincts proved to be true when she later met the recently bereaved parents of this teenage boy, for some transplant units in the UK are now well aware of this phenomena. A recent television documentary on 'Roadside Shrines', which are spontaneously created by friends and relatives at the sites of fatal road accidents, also highlighted this phenomenon, as some of the victims are young people whose vital organs are quickly bequeathed in order to help others.

The second story is about Michael, an old acquaintance I met at a literary memorial last year, who likewise had just received a liver transplant and now looked as youthful as when I had last seen him twenty-five years ago. He was quite shocked when I asked him if he had inherited any memories from the donor, and exclaimed: "How did you know about that?" Michael then went on to relate how he had been sitting in the hospital canteen when the announcement came through that a liver had been found for him, so he went straight into surgery. After the operation he was aware that the liver had belonged to a gentle and intelligent young man, who soon appeared in a vivid dream, where Michael and his close friends were introduced to the entire circle of the donor's close friends. There was more to this touching story about two people who had never met in life yet had now become closely bound together, and it was clear to me that this was a meeting or union of two 'soul groups'. And then there was the story of our sensitive healer friend Yvonne, who had surprised the nurses in a hospital by describing the 'taste' of each individual blood donor's personality while she was being transfused with several units of blood each week.

I first heard about 'cellular memory' about ten years ago when Paul Pearsall's book, "The Heart's Code" (Broadway Books, 1998) was first published, and again several years later when an excellent Channel 4 documentary called "Transplanting Memories" was first screened on British television.

One of the earliest recorded cases concerned a dancer and choreographer from Boston named Claire Sylvia, who underwent a heart and lung transplant in 1988, receiving these organs from an eighteen-year-old male donor named Tim who had just been killed in a motorcycle accident. While recovering from surgery the sensitive and health-conscious Claire developed an uncharacteristic craving for beer, green peppers and Kentucky fried chicken nuggets. Only later did she discover that some of these chicken nuggets were found inside her donor's leather jacket when he was killed. She also had a dream sometime after surgery in which Tim told her his name. Claire later wrote a book about her post-transplant experiences, entitled "A Change of Heart", where she documented the changes in her manner, dress, preferences, handwriting and personality.

One particularly haunting case was told to Paul Pearsall by a psychiatrist about an eight-year-old girl who had received the heart of a ten-year-old girl that had just been murdered. After surgery the young recipient began having recurring nightmares about the young female donor of her heart being violently killed by a man. The girl's mother said that her daughter knew who this man was. After several sessions the psychiatrist was firmly convinced these were real memories, so they decided to inform the police. From the horrific imagery of these dreams the girl was able to describe the sequence of events; the time, the place, the weapon, what the murderer looked like, what clothes he wore, and even the words he had spoken before killing the girl. From this accurate testimony the killer was easily apprehended and successfully convicted of this crime.

The late Dr Paul Pearsall (1942-2007) conducted a survey of seventy-four transplant patients, twenty-three of which were heart transplant recipients, all of whom exhibited personality changes that paralleled those of their donors. This research was first published in the Journal of Near Death Studies in Spring 2002 under the title of: "Changes in Heart Transplant Recipients that Parallel the Personalities of Their Donors." Ten of these cases were later extracted and published in an article in Nexus Magazine (Volume 12, Number 3, May 2005), entitled: "Organ Transplants and Cellular Memories", by Paul Pearsall, Gary Schwartz and Linda Russek, which along with an interview called 'The Thinking Heart" can be found at www.paulpearsall.com

In the first of these ten cases the heart donor was an eighteen-year-old boy named Paul who had been killed in a car accident, while the recipient was a girl of the same age named Danny (Danielle). A year after he died Paul's parent's felt able to start sorting through his room and in the process found a notebook of his poetic writings, one of which was a song entitled "Danny, My Heart Is Yours', with lyrics that foretold how he was destined to die young and leave his heart to someone named Danny. Paul was only twelve when he made the decision to donate his organs. When Danny later saw photos of Paul she recognized him as the love of her life, and was able to finish the verses of his song to her without ever having heard them. Danny absorbed many of the quiet poetic characteristics of Paul and likewise learned to play the guitar, and the first song she wrote was about her beloved's heart that had saved her life.

In another case the heart donor was a three-year-old boy called Tim (Thomas) who died falling from an apartment window, while the recipient was Daryl, a five-year-old boy who later said: "I gave the boy a name. He's younger than me, a little brother about half my age, and I call him Timmy. He got hurt bad when he fell down. He likes 'Power Rangers' a lot, I think, just like I used to. I don't like these toys anymore though." Daryl's parent's later learned that Tim fell while trying to reach a Power Ranger toy that had fallen onto the ledge of the window, and Daryl will no longer even touch these toys.

Another case relates to a thirty-five year old heart recipient named Lily, who said: "Before receiving my new heart I was not all that interested in sex. I never thought much about it. Don't get me wrong, my husband and I had a sex life, but it was not a big part of my life. Now I tire my husband out. I want sex every night and I masturbate two or three times a day. I used to hate X-rated videos, but now I love them. I feel like a slut sometimes and even do a strip for my husband when I'm in the mood. I would never have done that before my surgery." At this time Lily did not know that she had received the heart of a twenty-four year old prostitute, who also worked as a topless dancer and for a call-out agency.

Another case tells of Glenda and David, who were sitting in their car together in silent resentment after a trivial little argument, when Glenda saw the bright headlights of an oncoming car and instantly realized that her husband was just about be killed and that there would never be a chance to make-up and reconfirm their everlasting love for each other.

Three years after the accident Paul Pearsall sat with Glenda in a hospital chapel waiting for the young man who had received David's heart and his mother to turn up for an informal meeting. But they were quite late and Paul was just about to suggest that they leave when Glenda said: "David's heart is here. I can't believe I'm saying that to you, but I feel it. His recipient is here in this hospital." Just then the young man and his mother entered the chapel and in a heavy Spanish accent apologized for being late because they couldn't find the chapel. After the introductions Glenda shyly asked, "This embarrasses me as much as it must embarrass you, but can I put my hand on your chest and feel his - I mean your heart?" The young man unbuttoned his shirt and gently placed Glenda's palm on his naked chest.

In Paul's words - 'What happened next transcends our current view of the brain, body, heart, and mind. Glenda's hand began to tremble and tears rolled down her cheeks. She closed her eyes and whispered, "I love you David, everything is copacetic." She removed her hand, hugged the young man to her chest and then they sat down, silently holding hands together in the chapel'. In her heavy Spanish accent the young man's mother then told Paul, "My son uses that word 'copacetic' all the time now. He never used it before he received his new heart, but after his surgery it was the first thing he said to me when he could talk. I didn't know what it means. He said everything was copacetic. It is not a word I know in Spanish." Glenda overheard us, and said, "That word was our signal that everything is okay. Every time we argued and made up, we would both say that everything is copacetic."

This magic word 'copacetic' - which appears to be an obscure early black American term implying that everything is fine or acceptable - then stimulated the young man to reveal many of the changes he experienced after his heart transplant. Whereas previously he had been a health-conscious vegetarian, he now craves meat and fatty foods. Before he liked heavy metal music, now he loves Motown music and early rock and roll. He also experiences recurring dreams of bright lights coming straight toward him. In reply Glenda said that her husband David loved meat, played in a Motown band while in medical school, and that she too still dreams of the approaching lights of that fateful night.

(To be continued)