Lives of others
For 8 year old Jessie, it was a ray of hope. Born with a congenital heart defect, the heart transplant was a new chance for her- a chance to have a normal life, to play with friends in the park after school. Little did she know that the heart transplant would change her life in more ways than one.
Shortly after the operation, Jessie began to have nightmares- nightmares of an attacker and a girl being murdered. The nightmare used to plague her so often, that she was brought to a psychiatrist. The description Jessie gave was so vivid, that the psychiatrist was convinced that it was real. It turned out that the ten year old whose heart she had just received was murdered. Due to the violent recurring dreams, Jessie was able to describe the events of that horrible encounter and the murderer so well, that the police soon apprehended, arrested, and convicted the killer.
Science fiction? Not really.
This incident really happened in the early 90′s. I came across this fascinating phenomenon called as ‘cellular memory’ some time back. The theory states that the brain is not the only organ that stores memories or personality traits, and that memory as a process can form in other systems in the body like the heart.
Muscle memory, is of course a well known fact. Consider this- if you have played an instrument before, you would have realized that at first it is difficult to get used to the movements- for example, pressing the right piano keys. But as you practice more, you no longer have to think about the right keys. The hand just knows them. It is the same about any sport, or any kind of repetitive movement. The brain no longer comes into picture. You just know what to do.
Since most hospitals’ organ transplant programs do not allow the recipient to know the identity of the donor, most cases of cellular memory have been documented by scientists studying the phenomenon. The identity of the patients is normally not know, leaving the stories at large but in obscurity.
One of the few cases we know the patient’s name was a woman called Claire Sylvia who received a heart and lung transplant in the 1970′s from an eighteen year old male donor who had been in a motorcycle accident. None of this information was known to Sylvia, who upon waking up claimed she had a new and intense craving for beer, chicken nuggets, and green peppers, all food she didn’t enjoy prior to the surgery. Sylvia wrote a book about her experiences after learning the identity of her donor, called A Change of Heart.
Other documented cases have been perplexing and sometimes extreme. A 47 year old man receiving a heart from a 17 year old African American boy suddenly picked up an intense fondness for classical music. The boy whose heart had been donated was killed in a drive-by shooting, still clutching his violin case in his hands.
Fascinating stuff! Imagine waking up one day with someone else’s thoughts and feelings!