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When Death Becomes Life: Notes from a Transplant Surgeon

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"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 "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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"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 "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.

30 review for When Death Becomes Life: Notes from a Transplant Surgeon

  1. 5 out of 5

    Ryan Boissonneault

    It is an underappreciated fact that today a surgeon can, if needed, rip open your chest, remove your heart, replace it with another one, and if all goes well, have you discharged in 10 days. This amazing feat of modern medicine, one we may rarely think about, was at one point thought to be nothing more than a science fiction fantasy—and rightly so. The number of hurdles standing in the way of successful transplantation was enormous. These included figuring out how to suture together blood vessel It is an underappreciated fact that today a surgeon can, if needed, rip open your chest, remove your heart, replace it with another one, and if all goes well, have you discharged in 10 days. This amazing feat of modern medicine, one we may rarely think about, was at one point thought to be nothing more than a science fiction fantasy—and rightly so. The number of hurdles standing in the way of successful transplantation was enormous. These included figuring out how to suture together blood vessels without leakage or damage to the inner lining, how to keep patients alive by temporarily taking over the function of failed organs (dialysis for kidneys and cardiopulmonary bypass for the heart and lungs), and developing anti-rejection medication to prevent the host immune system from attacking the donated organ. Throw in the ethical and logistical issues associated with procuring and coordinating donated organs and recipient transplant lists and you have one of the most complex and daunting issues in the history of medicine. If you’re like me, at some point you’ve pondered the details of the first transplantation, when and where it was performed, and who was bold enough to carry it out, along with the details about how they could have possibly figured all of this out. In When Death Becomes Life, transplant surgeon Joshua D. Mezrich answers these questions and more, telling the story of his own development as a transplant surgeon along with the history of the subject and the pioneers that made it all possible. Mezrich also catalogues the incredible stories of courageous patients and heroic donors that risked everything for a chance to live and save life. The journey to successful transplantation was anything but easy, both in general and for Mezrich in particular. The success rates, while higher today, were extremely low for most of the history of transplantation (and particularly before the development of immunosuppression medications). Mezrich tells the stories of not only the successes but also of the disappointments and deaths, and how emotionally taxing the profession can be. (Mezrich particularly drives home the point when he recounts the first patient he killed.) But far from being a demoralizing book, When Death Becomes Life is a testimony to human perseverance, both individually and collectively. Every failed experiment, unsuccessful operation, and accidental death brings with it the opportunity to learn and advance, and we are living during a period of time where we can witness the culmination of this sacrifice. Today, for example, the one-year survival rate for heart transplant recipients is 85 to 90 percent, compared to about 30 percent in the 1970s. Just imagine the emotional toll of having 7 out of 10 of your patients die within a year of you working on them. Today you can successfully extend the life of 9 out of 10. This drives home a larger message; namely, that the conveniences and privileges we take for granted today were intensely and passionately fought for, and that future progress depends on the application of the same passion and perseverance. Constant vigilance—in medicine as in all areas of life—is the only way forward to a future that is better than the present. Mezrich ends the book by contemplating the future of transplantation, including the possibility of xenotransplants (transplants between species). Pigs represent the most promising donor, and with advances in genetic engineering, we may be able to one day manipulate a pig’s genes to create organs compatible with our own immune systems. If this sounds like science fiction, so did the prospect of heart transplantation between two humans, not that long ago.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Kazen

    3.5 stars Books by doctors who wield scalpels are some of my favorites, and Mezrich does a great job introducing the reader to the history and current practice of transplant surgery. The good: - This is not a comprehensive history of transplantation, nor a memoir, nor a collection of patient stories. It's equal parts of each, allowing us to get an overview of the field in a personal, relatable way. - Transplant surgery is amazing, and Mezrich obviously loves his job and sharing that wonder and excit 3.5 stars Books by doctors who wield scalpels are some of my favorites, and Mezrich does a great job introducing the reader to the history and current practice of transplant surgery. The good: - This is not a comprehensive history of transplantation, nor a memoir, nor a collection of patient stories. It's equal parts of each, allowing us to get an overview of the field in a personal, relatable way. - Transplant surgery is amazing, and Mezrich obviously loves his job and sharing that wonder and excitement with us. It's almost like he's going, 'Look! Isn't this cool?' And it is. - The pioneers of the field, like most doctors in the 1960s and 70s, were men, so I appreciate that he takes the time to acknowledge a woman who is leading the field today and has some bad ass stories of her own. - The pacing is good and the switches between history, patient stories, and his training are well done. I never thought, 'go back!' or, 'ugh, history again'. It all fits together. - Mezrich doesn't shy away from ethical issues. Some of the first donors didn't give consent, exactly, and organs were taken from people who died in prison as a matter of course. When the field was first getting established there wasn't even an accepted definition of brain death. Not all the controversy is in the past - do you give a new liver to an alcoholic? How much risk do you let a living donor take on in order to save their spouse? - Overall the tone is upbeat. He doesn't tear our hearts out or leave us in suspense about the outcome of a case, which I appreciate. My eyes did leak a bit while reading the chapter about donors because the details are beautiful and touching. For example, before starting the operation to procure organs the doctors, nurses, ICU team, and other staff that took care of the patient will pause and say something about the donor. Often they'll read a poem or express thoughts from the family, and many will have tears in their eyes as they start. - There are no spiels about how everyone should donate their kidneys or anything like that. He accepts organs as they come, and always with a sense of gratitude and respect for the donors. - The author seems like a nice guy which is saying a lot, because there are bunches of surgeons who write books that don't seem like nice guys. He acknowledges the rest of his team and thanks them often, as well as share funny, self-deprecating stories. The not-so-good: - As much as I enjoyed this book (a lot!) I'm not sure it will stick with me. It's missing that ineffable something that screams four star read. If you like books about medicine, look forward to the Wellcome Prize longlist, or are just curious about transplantation, you'll want to pick up Death Becomes Life. Thanks to Harper and Edelweiss for providing a review copy.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Rebecca

    In this debut memoir a surgeon surveys the history of organ transplantation, recalling his own medical education and the special patients he’s met along the way. In the 1940s and 1950s patient after patient was lost to rejection of the transplanted organ, post-surgery infection, or hemorrhaging. Mezrich marvels at how few decades passed between transplantation seeming like something out of a science-fiction future and becoming a commonplace procedure. His aim is to never lose his sense of wonder In this debut memoir a surgeon surveys the history of organ transplantation, recalling his own medical education and the special patients he’s met along the way. In the 1940s and 1950s patient after patient was lost to rejection of the transplanted organ, post-surgery infection, or hemorrhaging. Mezrich marvels at how few decades passed between transplantation seeming like something out of a science-fiction future and becoming a commonplace procedure. His aim is to never lose his sense of wonder at the life-saving possibilities of organ donation, and he conveys that awe to readers through his descriptions of a typical procedure. One day I will likely need a donated kidney to save my life. How grateful I am to live at a time when this is a possibility. See my full review at BookBrowse. (See also my list of other books, fiction and non-, featuring organ donation.)

  4. 5 out of 5

    Katie/Doing Dewey

    Summary: This book was a mixed bag for me, with some parts that were far more interesting than others and a tone that varied from too formal to too informal to spot on. This is one of the many recent releases in what is becoming one of my favorite genres,  memoir plus an intro to another topic. In this case, transplant surgeon Joshua Mezrich combines his professional memoir with a history of transplant surgery and some of his patients' stories. This blend gives the reader a glimpse of both the te Summary: This book was a mixed bag for me, with some parts that were far more interesting than others and a tone that varied from too formal to too informal to spot on. This is one of the many recent releases in what is becoming one of my favorite genres,  memoir plus an intro to another topic. In this case, transplant surgeon Joshua Mezrich combines his professional memoir with a history of transplant surgery and some of his patients' stories. This blend gives the reader a glimpse of both the technical aspects of transplant surgery and the day-to-day human experience of receiving, donating, and transplanting organs. I immediately suspected this book was going to be a mix of good and bad based on the author's tone. Within the first few chapters, the author had already used a lot of technical terms (anatomy and surgery descriptions) without bothering to define them. He'd also gone to the other extreme, using flip, casual language that was incongruous with the serious topic. This combination frequently showed up when the author was discussing the intricate details of doing surgery. The author also bounced back and forth between sounding sympathetic for his patients and sounding callous. Based on the author's discussion of the difficulties of losing patients, I suspect both the callous-seeming sections and the sections that seemed too flip were his coping mechanisms showing. As a result of the poorly explained technical terms, the sections about doing surgery were my least favorite. They were a bit of a slog. Without pictures, it was hard to imagine what was going on. The history sections were more engaging, although there were a lot of experiments on animals. Fortunately, they weren't described in too much detail. However, my favorite parts were definitely the sections focused on the author's patients, both the organ donors and recipients. These chapters were particularly moving. We got to see people going through some of the most challenging life experiences and in many cases, making some good come of them. I also thought the author was the most sympathetic in these sections. Overall, this was a fascinating topic and the personal bits were very good. The poorly explained technical parts just didn't live up to the rest. I'd still recommend it to people who like medical memoirs, but I suspect there are better ones you might pick up first.This review was originally posted on Doing Dewey

  5. 4 out of 5

    April Greissinger

    Big thanks to Harper Books for sending me a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review! I LOVED this book and I will definitely be thinking about it for a long time! I am in the medical field and I love reading about anything medical, from healthcare provider's experiences to any past history regarding the field. When I saw this book was coming out, I was extremely excited and had to get my hands on a copy! I love learning new things through books and I didn't know that much about su Big thanks to Harper Books for sending me a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review! I LOVED this book and I will definitely be thinking about it for a long time! I am in the medical field and I love reading about anything medical, from healthcare provider's experiences to any past history regarding the field. When I saw this book was coming out, I was extremely excited and had to get my hands on a copy! I love learning new things through books and I didn't know that much about surgery before reading this one. But man did I learn a lot! Dr. Mezrich gave so much history about the first heart/liver/lung/pancreas transplants and it was so interesting! It definitely felt drier at times since the material is pretty dense, but it was very interesting and informative. The history made me reflect on the way that the medical field has changed so much over the years, and it was so crazy to read about the first procedures and about these courageous surgeons! So much new medical information has been gained from these doctors in the past and it is incredible what they started many years ago. I wish they could see how things have changed now and how much of an impact they have made in the field today. I loved having these stories interspersed with Dr. Mezrich's experiences throughout the book. I definitely skimmed some of the history and looked more forward to his personal experiences throughout, but I love that he really delved into the past so you could get a better picture about how everything got started. My favorite sections of the book were his interactions with all of the different patients! I loved reading about how grateful and excited pancreas patients are about getting these new organs. I loved how he dove deeper into this information since so many people have diabetes today, and I run into so many people through rescue and in the hospitals with diabetes. I loved reading about the ethical dilemmas about alcoholics receiving new livers and learned so much through these chapters. It made me reflect on patients that I have seen in the past and how there still need to be some changes made to really help these people overcome these addictions - more than just putting a bandaid on the problem with a new organ as he put it in the book. There was so much hope filled throughout these pages with people getting new organs and the new life they get to experience because of it. I also loved that he loves surgery because he says he is able to develop lifelong relationships with these patients. This is something I am excited to do hopefully one day as a Physician Assistant. I LOVED this book but couldn't get it 5 stars because multiple times the title Physician Assistant was misused, which is a bit problem of mine since this is my future profession. This is just a minor issue but something that is big to me and I bet lots of other PAs out there. HIGHLY recommend this book if you are interested in the medical field and learning new things about surgery! Also if you love stories filled with hope and new beginnings. I think this book will make you reflect on your life and maybe some of the people that have impacted you in many important ways.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Susan LeGrand Levine

    To give is to receive...I did and this one thing I know! This book describes in detail the heroes (and their stories)who blazed the trail of transplantation. Being a donor and having a healthy husband is my reward. Thanks Josh for your part in making this a reality to our family. This book helps me understand so much better what went on at UW Hospital-Madison May 23rd, 2012. I’m forever grateful.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Chris C

    2.5 This is a decent medical book but after the glorious writing in Emperor of Maladies it is somewhat deficient. For instance, the writer delineates a certain operation but I have no idea to which the author references. Diagrams, analogies, pictures, even a YouTube link would have been of much use but I am left to wonder as medical jargon abounds without any layperson reference. Furthermore, the writing is somewhat insipid in that the pioneers of transplantation are limited to severe exposition 2.5 This is a decent medical book but after the glorious writing in Emperor of Maladies it is somewhat deficient. For instance, the writer delineates a certain operation but I have no idea to which the author references. Diagrams, analogies, pictures, even a YouTube link would have been of much use but I am left to wonder as medical jargon abounds without any layperson reference. Furthermore, the writing is somewhat insipid in that the pioneers of transplantation are limited to severe exposition without much life given to them. I appreciated the passages where the author has done so but they remain few and far between. Example of a surgical passage: I placed a side-biter clamp on Tito’s cava down below the liver. I cut a hole in his cava above my clamp and proceeded to sew the donor infrahepatic cava to the recipient cava. This took about ten minutes. We opened the clamps and there was flow through it. Then I grabbed a vascular stapler and fired it across the upper cuff. Most of the surgical bleeding from the cava stopped. Success. We basically rerouted blood, so that rather than flow through the donor liver and out the top, the blood flowed through the liver and went out the bottom, still into the recipient cava.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Jenn

    Thanks to BookShout for letting me read this book! In order to fully appreciate this book, one needs to take anatomy and a medical terminology class. Or google everything they don’t understand and take forever reading this. It also could use pictures to demonstrate what he’s talking about with crossing or connecting the veins and arteries and where people have put kidneys in the past, etc. There are also a lotttt of historical figures whom I’ve never heard of before to keep track. I need a timel Thanks to BookShout for letting me read this book! In order to fully appreciate this book, one needs to take anatomy and a medical terminology class. Or google everything they don’t understand and take forever reading this. It also could use pictures to demonstrate what he’s talking about with crossing or connecting the veins and arteries and where people have put kidneys in the past, etc. There are also a lotttt of historical figures whom I’ve never heard of before to keep track. I need a timeline. I understand the need to appreciate medical marvels throughout time but I didn’t know that’s what I was getting when I picked up this book. I would’ve enjoyed this more if it was only the author’s experiences without the history and anatomy lessons. Does the average reader really need this much surgical detail? To whom is this book targeted? Med students and residents only?

  9. 4 out of 5

    Bonny

    When Death Becomes Life is an interesting memoir and history of organ transplantation from transplant surgeon Dr. Joshua Mezrich. While I enjoyed his writing about the history, researchers and physicians that brought us to this point in time with transplantations, I enjoyed his writing about his own background, how and why he became a transplant surgeon, and his own patients just as much or more. Dr. Mezrich always maintains an awareness and respect for the great gift that donors and their famil When Death Becomes Life is an interesting memoir and history of organ transplantation from transplant surgeon Dr. Joshua Mezrich. While I enjoyed his writing about the history, researchers and physicians that brought us to this point in time with transplantations, I enjoyed his writing about his own background, how and why he became a transplant surgeon, and his own patients just as much or more. Dr. Mezrich always maintains an awareness and respect for the great gift that donors and their families are giving, and reminds readers of that often. I loved reading about the technical details of kidney transplants, but Dr. Mezrich also reminds the readers that even though it may be an almost-routine procedure, it is really never routine. He recounts his enthusiasm at seeing a kidney become pink with blood flow and begin producing urine, and also writes about heart, lung, liver, and pancreas transplants, and the inherent difficulties with them. I thoroughly enjoyed the chapter about how cyclosporine was discovered and what a huge difference it made in transplantations. After all, transplantation is as much about immunology as it is about surgical skill, and Dr. Mezrich recounts all of this in his thoroughly enjoyable book.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Jeff Bobin

    Many of us have come to take the ability to transplant organs for granted without realizing the cost to get where we are today. This brief look at the history or transplantation and some of the key people that brought us to where we are today is an interesting read. It is written in a way that the lay person can understand most of it but would benefit anyone in the medical field. It is a look into the lives of the surgeons but just as importantly into the lives of the patients, donors and others Many of us have come to take the ability to transplant organs for granted without realizing the cost to get where we are today. This brief look at the history or transplantation and some of the key people that brought us to where we are today is an interesting read. It is written in a way that the lay person can understand most of it but would benefit anyone in the medical field. It is a look into the lives of the surgeons but just as importantly into the lives of the patients, donors and others. The history is much longer than I thought and also I have lived through so much of the successful history and watched it unfold, often without thinking much of it.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Jamie

    This was an interesting book. I thought reading it would make me less nervous about having transplant surgery. It didn’t help. I learned all about the history of transplant for kidneys, livers, pancreas, heart and lungs. I also learned about immunosuppressant drugs and how organs are procured for transplant. All of this from a transplant surgeon’s point of view. Jerry had listened to NPR and Dr. Joshua D. Mezrich was a feature story his life as a transplant surgeon. This was how o came across th This was an interesting book. I thought reading it would make me less nervous about having transplant surgery. It didn’t help. I learned all about the history of transplant for kidneys, livers, pancreas, heart and lungs. I also learned about immunosuppressant drugs and how organs are procured for transplant. All of this from a transplant surgeon’s point of view. Jerry had listened to NPR and Dr. Joshua D. Mezrich was a feature story his life as a transplant surgeon. This was how o came across this book.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Rana

    Really fascinating history.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Janelle • She Reads with Cats

    Review to come

  14. 4 out of 5

    Steve

    Enjoyable, emotional memoir of a transplant surgeon I loved this book. I found it an emotional rollercoaster: joy for transplants that worked, sorrow for transplants that didn't, and sorrow for the donors who met untimely deaths but also joy that parts of them lived on in transplant recipients. This book encompassed history of medicine, modern medicine and memoir. As a memoir, the book is excellent; I loved Joshua Mezrich’s adventures and the way he described them, and this is where Mezrich’s sen Enjoyable, emotional memoir of a transplant surgeon I loved this book. I found it an emotional rollercoaster: joy for transplants that worked, sorrow for transplants that didn't, and sorrow for the donors who met untimely deaths but also joy that parts of them lived on in transplant recipients. This book encompassed history of medicine, modern medicine and memoir. As a memoir, the book is excellent; I loved Joshua Mezrich’s adventures and the way he described them, and this is where Mezrich’s sense of humor would shine through. His discussion of the science is very clear except where, being a surgeon, he would lapse into very technical details about it; more so than he did for anti-rejection drugs, for example. Nonetheless, this is a great book and I strongly recommend it for anyone interested in science, or medicine, more specifically. Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book via Edelweiss for review purposes.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Emily

    I have been a supporter of organ donation ever since I discovered that Singapore Citizens are by default consented to organ donation until they decided to opt out of the government program. I instantly knew that I wanted to be an organ donor then because it was the right thing to do. When you die, these organs have no use for you anymore, so why not give them to multiple people so that they can have another shot at life? I am not a Singapore Citizen (boy how I wish I am), and looking to my own c I have been a supporter of organ donation ever since I discovered that Singapore Citizens are by default consented to organ donation until they decided to opt out of the government program. I instantly knew that I wanted to be an organ donor then because it was the right thing to do. When you die, these organs have no use for you anymore, so why not give them to multiple people so that they can have another shot at life? I am not a Singapore Citizen (boy how I wish I am), and looking to my own country's views and attitudes towards the issue I was appalled. Organ donation have always been a taboo topic in Indonesia for religious - and I assume cultural - reasons, so it have never been breached and there does not exist an adequate system that facilitates this beautiful mechanism of giving and taking. There is an organisation that facilitates cornea donation and transplantation, but that's about it. Reading this book somehow made me want to do more to make people understand that organ donation is an issue that shouldn't be avoided like talking about it means talking about your impending doom, but a serious issue that can make this society and this world a better place. But then I give up the idea 5 minutes after the acknowledgement page. Much as it will be an ideal world I'd like to live in, I won't even try changing people around here. It's too hard. Anyway, to return to the book, I can't help feeling my organs move internally when they talk about opening, sewing, taking pieces out and replacing things on people like it's nobody business. One book referenced in this book was 'The Puzzle People' and come to think about it maybe as human we really are just that. The book shares history of organ transplantation, types of organs transplantation that exist, how they differ from one another, about alternative transplantation methods in the work and most importantly about surgeons, donors and recipients, those who make this happen. One thing about this book though, I wish it had been more in-depth and talks about issues more thoroughly, but alas this book is only anecdotes from a medical professional and never claims to attempt to explain everything but to share the daily ongoings into a field that we as layman hopefully would never enter (except when being donors). So there's no complaints. And if you haven't already, please consider and reconsider organ donation. It might possibly be the most important legacy you leave in this lifetime. It's truly a gift that keeps on giving.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Katie Gurney

    Brilliant This book is fantastic! I really enjoyed the history of transplants and the risk takers that paved the way to save so many lives. It's amazing to read all of the patient stories from a physicians perspective and to gain insight into this medical specialty. I absolutely loved this book and would highly recommend.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Sarah Beth

    I received an uncorrected proof copy of this book from HarperCollins. Part memoir from a transplant surgeon on his experiences in the field and part history of the practice of transplantation, this book strikes the delicate balance of conveying a wealth of information on the movement of organs between bodies while also keeping the human element of the patients' stories very present. Throughout the book, Mezrich covers multiple types of transplants including kidney, liver, heart, pancreas, and ski I received an uncorrected proof copy of this book from HarperCollins. Part memoir from a transplant surgeon on his experiences in the field and part history of the practice of transplantation, this book strikes the delicate balance of conveying a wealth of information on the movement of organs between bodies while also keeping the human element of the patients' stories very present. Throughout the book, Mezrich covers multiple types of transplants including kidney, liver, heart, pancreas, and skin, but also spends time discussing the ethical issues behind this medical practice, the extraordinary gift provided by the donors, and the devastating tragedies that occur when transplants don't succeed. It was a unusual choice to blend his own personal experiences dealing with patients with historical coverage of transplants in the nineteenth century, but it did give the book a much more personal feel than a standalone history. However, while the history sections in each chapter did help me learn a lot about transplantation's origins, I enjoyed the personal memoir sections far more. Mezrich is able to transport his reader into the operating room to see the challenges and setbacks that can occur and into the waiting room with the family as they wait for their loved one. By sharing individual stories of patients, he brings the medical practice to life and helps illuminate the desperation that fueled early research. There were parts of this book that were hard to read. There are many, many patient deaths shared within the pages of this book, both of donors and those hoping to receive successful donations. The history of transplantation is one littered with desperately ill patients hoping against hope that this new practice will buy them some time. For many, it was a false hope, but at least their losses led to many successes in Mezrich's lifetime for many of the patients he treats. I also felt sympathy for surgeons who sacrifice so much for the sake of their patients. Mezrich's account is full of references to being away from his children and operations performed in the middle of the night. As he says, "I often have the feeling that my job is to fix people with illness so they can go back out and live their lives, do things that I would love to do but don't have time to" (339). Mezrich also does an excellent job of tackling many of the ethical issues associated with transplant, including how to define death, who is deserving of a transplant, and how much risk a healthy person should be allowed to take to save someone else. This book was an excellent example of medical history done right with the added bonus of personal experiences being shared by someone who works in the field and has a very nuanced understanding and appreciation for the complexity of what he does.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Melissa

    Mezrich presents a history of solid organ transplantation alongside his own history of learning to become a transplant surgeon (mostly kidneys and livers). Each road was long and hard and if you know anything about this branch of medicine, it comes with significant risk of failure. Mezrich includes two chapters where he presents the stories of some of his recipients and of the donors and their families. If you are not moved by those stories you have no soul. This is also a reminder to consider m Mezrich presents a history of solid organ transplantation alongside his own history of learning to become a transplant surgeon (mostly kidneys and livers). Each road was long and hard and if you know anything about this branch of medicine, it comes with significant risk of failure. Mezrich includes two chapters where he presents the stories of some of his recipients and of the donors and their families. If you are not moved by those stories you have no soul. This is also a reminder to consider marking “Organ Donor” on your driver’s license and having that conversation with your family.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Briony

    When I first saw this book advertised, I immediately added it to my to-read pile. I didn't fully read the book blurb, but based on assumptions, I thought it would be more about Mezrich's own stories with transplants. This book is more so a compilation of history, ethics, and personal journey. It does not necessarily disappoint, but I would recommend it to people who want an accessible history of the development transplant with a sprinkling of transplant stories.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Mike H

    Excellent combination of surgeon's experiences and a history of organ transplantation. A highlight were several heartfelt and touching stories. Some humor. Descriptions of cases tended to be filled with overwhelming medical terminology and jargon, perhaps unavoidable but it made for dry reading. Author's dedication to transplantation shines through, as does his sense of both pride and privilege to work in the field.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Martin

    I would have entered 3.5. Part of this book is a summary of the history of transplant surgery and the numerous failures (patient deaths) in the early years. It’s also part memoir of the personal struggle to make transplant surgery a career. However there were a lot of clinical details and jargon that I had to try to remember from HS biology 50 yrs ago. They could have been explained better or a glossary included.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Tiara Lynn

    This was surprisingly engaging with a focus on story versus too much medical jargon. Dr. Mezrich has a way of describing his surgeries that’s almost cinematic, painting a picture for the reader. I have several loved ones who are alive and thriving because of the chances the early pioneers of transplant medicine took. CW/TW Discussion of animal testing that’s sometimes a little graphic.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Nelia

    This book, written by a surgeon, is both a history of organ transplantation and a memoir. It recounts early transplantation attempts, starting in the 50's and 60's, that paved the way for the current rate of success, now made possible by cyclosporine and other anti-rejection drugs. It is well written and very comprehensible to the lay reader.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Mai

    Maybe four and a half. It was an amazing book to read with great insight and stories that pull you in. It was also heart- wrenchingly difficult to read just two months after my niece died in a tragic car accident and was able to donate some parts of her body after her death.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Jenn

    An excellent rendering of what it takes to be a modern surgeon versus how we got where we are. I enjoyed the anecdotal stories the author told from his repertoire of surgeries/patients with the contrast of the experimental transplants that happened in the early twentieth century.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Heather

    I heard the author interviewed on NPR and was eager to read this. I think this is a good book and probably compelling to many but I personally found the details and history of transplant surgery too dry for my non-scientific mind.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Krista Park

    A mix of memoir and historical overview of transplant science. A bit of a polemic on why to donate organs and tissue, but also really good. Also, a really good story of personal perseverance in school -- the surgeon had to work to succeed.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Jamie

    Bless his heart, I assume he is a much better doctor than writer. He never hit the right balance between medical jargon and personal stories for experience. Dr Marsh the neurologist wrote much, much better books about his experience as a surgeon (although not necessarily doing transplants).

  29. 4 out of 5

    Michelle Grosch

    A fascinating book about the history of organ transplantation that includes stories from the author’s experiences as a transplant surgeon. I enjoyed his down to earth writing style and sense of humor. Very engaging and readable.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Lane Brooke

    Loved this book. Covers the range of types and transplants with their histories, all interwoven with stories of recipients and donors.

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