A Grammy-winning song reminds Dr. Tim Davern of the life-and-death miracle of organ transplants.
This past February, I was surprised and delighted that Bonnie Raitt won song of the year at the Grammys against stiff competition from several pop star leviathans.
I knew Raitt's reputation as a respected singer-songwriter, but hadn't heard her winning song, "Just Like That”. Intrigued by her Grammy selection, I found the lyric video on YouTube as I drifted to sleep later that night. My eyes welled with tears as I listened to her beautiful voice vividly narrate the heartbreaking story of a middle-aged woman tormented by guilt, sorrow and loneliness in the wake of a sudden tragic accident 25 years before that took her young son. When a mysterious young man appears at her door, we learn that he has been long searching to thank her for the gift of life as he was the recipient of her son's heart, which she hears beating in his chest when they hug. The heart connects them, giving the man life and the mother the peace, redemption and grace that had so long eluded her.
As a transplant physician, I found this magnificent song to be a stark reminder that each deceased donor organ transplant represents a tragic paradox: it is a miraculous gift of life for the fortunate transplant recipient, but an unimaginable tragedy for the donor family.
The transplant team focuses on the former, desperately trying to keep patients with end-stage organ failure alive for life-saving transplants, and we appropriately celebrate each one. But Raitt reminds us that while the successful transplant represents the recipient patient and family’s best day, it is simultaneously the donor family’s worst. Joy and grief, life and death - like yin and yang - are inextricably linked. Thus, each transplant should be both a celebration and a time for somber reflection and thanks for sacrifices made.
Thank you, Bonnie Raitt, for this masterpiece and important reminder, and thank you to all of the donors and donor families for the greatest gift of all - the gift of life.
With a Perspective, this is Tim Davern.