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Memory Transfer Between Organ Transplants
to this study of patients who have received transplanted organs, particularly
hearts, it is not uncommon for memories, behaviours, preferences and habits
associated with the donor to be transferred to the recipient.
Paul Pearsall, PhD, Gary E. Schwartz, PhD, Linda G. Russek, PhD
It is generally
assumed that learning involves primarily the nervous system and secondarily
the immune system. Hence, patients receiving peripheral organ transplants
should not experience personality changes that parallel the personalities
of donors they have never met. When personality changes have been observed
following transplants, the kinds of explanations entertained include effects
of the immunosuppressant drugs, psychosocial stress, and pre-existing
psychopathology of the recipients.
However, living systems theory explicitly posits that all living cells
possess "memory" and "decider" functional subsystems
within them.4 Moreover, the recent integration of systems theory with
the concept of energy (termed dynamical energy systems theory) provides
compelling logic that leads to the prediction that all dynamical systems
store information and energy to various degrees. The systemic memory mechanism
provides a plausible explanation for the evolution of emergent (novel)
systemic properties through recurrent feedback interactions (i.e., the
nonlinear circulation of information and energy that reflects the ongoing
interactions of the components in a complex, dynamic network).
feedback loops exist in all atomic, molecular and cellular systems. Hence,
evidence for atomic systemic memory, molecular systemic memory and cellular
systemic memory should be found in these systems.
The systemic memory mechanism has been applied to a variety of controversial
and seemingly anomalous observations in complementary and alternative
medicine, including homoeopathy. It also makes new predictions. One prediction
is that sensitive recipients of transplanted organs can experience aspects
of the donor's personal history stored in the transplanted tissues.
In 1997, a book titled A
Change of Heart was published that described the apparent personality
changes experienced by Claire Sylvia. Sylvia received a heart and lung
transplant at YaleNew Haven Hospital in 1988. She reported noticing
that various attitudes, habits and tastes changed following her surgery.
She had inexplicable cravings for foods she had previously disliked. For
example, though she was a health-conscious dancer and choreographer, upon
leaving the hospital she had an uncontrollable urge to go to a Kentucky
Fried Chicken outlet and order chicken nuggets, a food she never ate.
Sylvia found herself drawn toward cool colours and no longer dressed in
the bright reds and oranges she used to prefer. She began behaving in
an aggressive and impetuous manner that was uncharacteristic of her but
turned out to be similar to the personality of her donor. Interestingly,
uneaten Kentucky Fried Chicken nuggets were found in the jacket of the
young man (her donor) when he was killed.
about the plausibility of cellular memory were sought by William Novak,
the co-author of the book. Pearsall proposed that the immunosuppressant
drugs could conceivably lower the threshold for patients to potentially
register cellular memories stored in the transplanted organs. Schwartz
and Russek proposed that the rejection process might not only reflect
the rejection of the material comprising the cells but also the systemic
information and energy stored within the cells as well.
Sylvia was unique because she received a substantial amount of new tissue
(heart and lungs), she was health conscious and she was emotionally open
and sensitive. Schwartz and Russek proposed that Claire Sylvia might be
the "white crow" of cellular systemic memory.
This paper reports key observations from 10 representative cases of transplant
recipients who were open to sharing experiences of personal changes following
their operations that are consistent with the systemic memory prediction.
the privacy of the donors' families, recipients and their families, physicians
and hospitals, donors and recipients are referred to by number, except
when their first names were mentioned by family members or friends in
the transcripts. All recipients and family members or friends of the donors
were interviewed by Pearsall and audiotaped. The transcripts were examined
by Schwartz and Russek and selected for inclusion in this report.
Each of the 10 cases includes a donor family member's report (or equivalent),
a recipient's report (or equivalent) and a recipient family member's or
friend's report. Donor family members, recipients and recipient family
members or friends are quoted directly from the transcripts. Personal
opinions (including controversial content) are reported verbatim. Each
case includes two to five sample parallels between the donors and changes
observed in the recipients post transplant surgery.
The donor was an 18-year-old boy killed in an automobile accident. The
recipient was an 18-year-old girl diagnosed with endocarditis and subsequent
The donor's father, a psychiatrist, said:
"My son always wrote poetry. We had waited more than a year to clean
out his room after he died. We found a book of poems he had never shown
us, and we've never told anyone about them. One of them has left us shaken
emotionally and spiritually. It spoke of his seeing his own sudden death.
He was a musician, too, and we found a song he titled "Danny, My
Heart Is Yours"the words about how my son felt he was destined
to die and give his heart to someone. He had decided to donate his organs
when he was 12 years old. We thought it was quite strong, but we thought
they were talking about it in school. When we met his recipient, we were
so...we didn't know, like, what it was. We don't know now. We just don't
"When they showed me pictures of their son, I knew him directly.
I would have picked him out anywhere. He's in me. I know he is in me and
he is in love with me. He was always my lover, maybe in another time somewhere.
How could he know years before he died that he would die and give his
heart to me? How would he know my name is Danny? And then, when they played
me some of his music, I could finish the phrases of his songs. I could
never play before, but after my transplant I began to love music. I felt
it in my heart. My heart had to play it. I told my mom I wanted to take
guitar lessonsthe same instrument Paul [the donor] had played. His
song is in me. I feel it a lot at night and it's like Paul is serenading
"My daughter, she was what you say....a hell-raiser. Until she got
sickthey say from a dentist, they thinkshe was the wild one.
Then she became quite quiet. I think it was her illness, but she said
she felt more energy, not less. She said she wanted to play an instrument
and she wanted to sing. When she wrote her first song, she sang about
her new heart as her lover's heart. She said her lover had come to save
The donor was a 16-month-old boy who drowned in a bathtub. The recipient
was a seven-month-old boy diagnosed with tetralogy of Fallot (a hole in
the ventricular septum with displacement of the aorta, pulmonary stenosis
and thickening of the right ventricle).The donor's mother, a physician,
"The first thing is that I could more than hear Jerry's [donor's]
heart. I could feel it in me. When Carter [the recipient] first saw me,
he ran to me and pushed his nose against me and rubbed and rubbed it.
It was just exactly what we did with Jerry. Jerry and Carter's heart is
five years old now, but Carter's eyes were Jerry's eyes. When he hugged
me, I could feel my son. I mean I could feel him, not just symbolically.
He was there. I felt his energy.
"I'm a doctor. I'm trained to be a keen observer and have always
been a natural-born sceptic. But this was real. I know people will say
that I need to believe my son's spirit is alive, and perhaps I do. But
I felt it. My husband and my father felt it. And I swear to you, and you
can ask my mother, Carter said the same baby-talk words that Jerry said.
Carter is six, but he was talking Jerry's baby talk and playing with my
nose just like Jerry did.
"We stayed with the ... [recipient family] that night. In the middle
of the night, Carter came in and asked to sleep with my husband and me.
He cuddled up between us exactly like Jerry did, and we began to cry.
Carter told us not to cry because Jerry said everything was okay. My husband
and I, our parents and those who really knew Jerry have no doubt. Our
son's heart contains much of our son and beats in Carter's chest. On some
level, our son is still alive."
"I saw Carter go to her [donor's mother]. He never does that. He
is very, very shy, but he went to her just like he used to run to me when
he was a baby. When he whispered 'It's okay, mama', I broke down. He called
her 'Mother', or maybe it was Jerry's heart talking. And one more thing
that got to us. We found out talking to Jerry's mom that Jerry had mild
cerebral palsy mostly on his left side. Carter has stiffness and some
shaking on that same side. He never did as a baby and it only showed up
after the transplant. The doctors say it's probably something to do with
his medical condition, but I really think there's more to it.
"One more thing I'd like to know about. When we went to church together,
Carter had never met Jerry's father. We came late and Jerry's dad was
sitting with a group of people in the middle of the congregation. Carter
let go of my hand and ran right to that man. He climbed on his lap, hugged
him and said 'Daddy'. We were flabbergasted. How could he have known him?
Why did he call him dad? He never did things like that. He would never
let go of my hand in church and never run to a stranger. When I asked
him why he did it, he said he didn't. He said Jerry did and he went with
The donor was a 24-year-old woman who was the victim of an automobile
accident. The recipient was a 25-year-old male graduate student suffering
from cystic fibrosis who received a heart-lung transplant.
The donor's sister reported:
"My sister was a very sensual person. Her one love was painting.
She was on her way to her first solo showing at a tiny art shop when a
drunk ploughed into her. It's a lesbian art store that supports gay artists.
My sister was not really very 'out' about it, but she was gay. She said
her landscape paintings were really representations of the mother or woman
figure. She would look at a naked woman model and paint a landscape from
that! Can you imagine? She was gifted."
"I never told anyone at first, but I thought having a woman's heart
would make me gay. Since my surgery, I've been hornier than ever and women
just seem to look even more erotic and sensual, so I thought I might have
gotten internal transsexual surgery. My doctor told me it was just my
new energy and lease on life that made me feel that way, but I'm different.
I know I'm different. I make love like I know exactly how the woman's
body feels and respondsalmost as if it is my body. I have the same
body, but I still think I've got a woman's way of thinking about sex now."
"He's a much better lover now. Of course, he was weaker before, but
it's not that. He's like, I mean, he just knows my body as well as I do.
He wants to cuddle, hold and take a lot of time. Before he was a good
lover, but not like this. It's just different. He wants to hug all the
time and go shopping. My God, he never wanted to shop! And you know what,
he carries a purse now. His purse! He slings it over his shoulder and
calls it his bag, but it's a purse. He hates it when I say that, but going
to the mall with him is like going with one of the girls. And one more
thing, he loves to go to museums. He would never, absolutely never, do
that. Now he would go every week. Sometimes he stands for minutes and
looks at a painting without talking. He loves landscapes and just stares.
Sometimes I just leave him there and come back later."
The donor was a 17-year-old black male student victim of a drive-by shooting.
The recipient was a 47-year-old white male foundry worker diagnosed with
The donor's mother reported:
"Our son was walking to violin class when he was hit. Nobody knows
where the bullet came from, but it just hit him and he fell. He died right
there on the street, hugging his violin case. He loved music and his teachers
said he had a real thing for it. He would listen to music and play along
with it. I think he would have been at Carnegie Hall some day, but the
other kids always made fun of the music he liked."
"I'm real sad and all for the guy who died and gave me his heart,
but I really have trouble with the fact that he was black. I'm not a racist,
mind you, not at all. Most of [my] friends at the plant are black guys.
But the idea that there is a black heart in a white body seems really...well,
I don't know. I told my wife that I thought my penis might grow to a black
man's size. They say black men have larger penises, but I don't know for
sure. After we have sex, I sometimes feel guilty because a black man made
love to my wife, but I don't really think that seriously.
"I can tell you one thing, though. I used to hate classical music,
but now I love it. So I know it's not my new heart, because a black guy
from the 'hood wouldn't be into that. Now it calms my heart. I play it
all the time. I more than like it. I didn't tell any of the guys on the
line that I have a black heart, but I think about it a lot."
"He was more than concerned about the idea when he heard it was a
black man's heart. He actually asked me if he could ask the doctor for
a white heart when one came up. He's no Archie Bunker, but he's close
to it. And he would kill me if he knew I told you this, but for the first
time he's invited his black friends over from work. It's like he doesn't
see their colour any more, even though he still talks about it sometimes.
He seems more comfortable and at ease with these black guys, but he's
not aware of it.
"And one more thing I should say. He's driving me nuts with the classical
music. He doesn't know the name of one song and never, never listened
to it before. Now, he sits for hours and listens to it. He even whistles
classical music songs that he could never know. How does he know them?
You'd think he'd like rap music or something because of his black heart."
The donor was a 19-year-old woman killed in an automobile accident. The
recipient was a 29-year-old woman diagnosed with cardiomyopathy secondary
The donor's mother reported:
"My Sara was the most loving girl. She owned and operated her own
health food restaurant and scolded me constantly about not being a vegetarian.
She was a great kid. Wild, but great. She was into the free-love thing
and had a different man in her life every few months. She was man crazy
when she was a little girl and it never stopped. She was able to write
some notes to me when she was dying. She was so out of it, but she kept
saying how she could feel the impact of the car hitting them. She said
she could feel it going through her body."
"You can tell people about this if you want to, but it will make
you sound crazy. When I got my new heart, two things happened to me. First,
almost every night, and still sometimes now, I actually feel the accident
my donor had. I can feel the impact in my chest. It slams into me, but
my doctor said everything looks fine. Also, I hate meat now. I can't stand
it. I was McDonald's biggest money-maker, and now meat makes me throw
up. Actually, when I even smell it, my heart starts to race. But that's
not the big deal. My doctor said that's just due to my medicines.
"I couldn't tell him, but what really bothers me is that I'm engaged
to be married now. He's a great guy and we love each other. The sex is
terrific. The problem is, I'm gay. At least, I thought I was. After my
transplant, I'm not...I don't think, anyway...I'm sort of semi- or confused
gay. Women still seem attractive to me, but my boyfriend turns me on;
women don't. I have absolutely no desire to be with a woman. I think I
got a gender transplant."
"Susie's straight now. I mean it seriously. She was gay and now her
new heart made her straight. She threw out all her books and stuff about
gay politics and never talks about it any more. She was really militant
about it before. She holds hands and cuddles with Steven just like my
girlfriend does with me. She talks girl-talk with my girlfriend, where
before she would be lecturing about the evils of sexist men. And my sister,
the queen of the Big Mac, hates meat. She won't even have it in the house."
The donor was a 14-year-old girl injured in a gymnastics accident. The
recipient was a 47-year-old man diagnosed with benign myxoma and cardiomyopathy.
The donor's mother reported:
"Look at her [shows photograph]. My daughter was the picture of health.
There wasn't an ounce of fat on her. She was a gymnast and her coach could
lift her above his head with one hand. She was so excited about life that
she would just hop and jump all the time like a kitten. She had some trouble
with food, though. She would skip meals, and for a while she was purging.
I think they would call her a little anorexic. We took her to therapy
about it, but she just wasn't much into food. And she had this silly little
giggle when she got embarrassed. It sounded like a little bird."
"I feel new again. I feel like a teenager. I actually feel giddy.
I know it's just the energy of the new heart, but I really feel younger
in every way, not just physically. I see the world that way. I'm really
young at heart. I have this annoying tendency to giggle that drives my
wife nuts. And there's something about food. I don't know what it is.
I get hungry, but after I eat I often feel nauseated and that it would
help if I could throw up."
"Gus is a teenager. No doubt about that. He's a kid or at least he
thinks he's a kid. Even when we're bowling, he yells and jumps around
like a fool. He's got this weird laugh now. It's a girl's laugh and we
tell him that. He doesn't care. His appetite never did bounce back after
the surgery. He's pretty much nauseated almost all the time. After Thanksgiving
dinnerand he loved ithe went upstairs and vomited. We took
him to the emergency room, but it wasn't anything to do with his new heart.
They said it was probably a reaction to something in the meal. None of
the rest of the family got sick, though. He's going to have to watch it.
His doctor is concerned about his weight."
The donor was a three-year-old girl who drowned in the family pool. The
recipient was a nine-year-old boy diagnosed with myocarditis and septal
The recipient's mother said:
"He [the recipient] doesn't know who his donor was or how she died.
We do. She drowned at her mother's boyfriend's house. Her mother and her
boyfriend left her with a teenage babysitter who was on the phone when
it happened. I never met her father, but the mother said they had a very
ugly divorce and that the father never saw his daughter. She said she
worked a lot of hours and wished she had spent more time with her. I think
she feels pretty guilty about it all...you know, the both of them sort
of not appreciating their daughter until it was too late."
who claimed not to know who the donor was, reported:
"I talk to her sometimes. I can feel her in there. She seems very
sad. She is very afraid. I tell her it's okay, but she is very afraid.
She says she wishes that parents wouldn't throw away their children. I
don't know why she would say that."
mother said about the recipient:
"Well, the one thing I notice most is that Jimmy is now deathly afraid
of the water. He loved it before. We live on a lake and he won't go out
in the backyard. He keeps closing and locking the back door. He says he's
afraid of the water and doesn't know why. He won't talk about it."
The donor was a 19-year-old woman who had suffered a broken neck in dance
class. The recipient was a 19-year-old woman diagnosed with cardiomyopathy.
The donor's mother reported:
"We've met Angela [the recipient], and she is the image of our daughter
[Stacy]. They could almost be twins. They're both bright girls; I mean,
my daughter was bright, too. She wanted to be an actress, but we thought
she had too much academic potential for that. Her father is a doctor and
really wanted her to follow in his footsteps."
"Stacy was extremely bright. It's so tragic. She would have made
an outstanding physician, but she wanted to dance and sing. That's how
she died. She fell in dance class. We always argued good-naturedly about
how disappointed I would be if she went to Hollywood instead of Harvard.
I hope she knew I just wanted her to be happy."
"I think of her as my sister. I think we must have been sisters in
a former life. I only know my donor was a girl my age, but it's more that
that. I talk to her at night or when I'm sad. I feel her answering me.
I can feel it in my chest. I put my left hand there and press it with
my right. It's like I can connect with her. Sometimes she seems sad. I
think she wanted to be a nurse or something, but other times it's like
she wanted to be on Broadway. I think she wanted to be on Broadway more.
I want to be a nurse, but I could be a doctor too. I hope she will be
happy, because she will always be my angel, my sister in my chest. I carry
my angel with me everywhere."
"We can sometimes hear her talking to her heart. It's like a 'Dear
diary' thing. She puts her hand on her chest and talks to who she thinks
her donor is. Once we found her holding a stethoscope to her chest to
try to hear her new heart. I think she still does that sometimes. And
the only other thing is that she really wants to go to medical school
now. She never wanted to do that before, but that's because I don't think
she thought she would live. She's already changed her college classes."
The donor was a three-year-old boy who fell from an apartment window.
The recipient was a five-year-old boy with septal defect and cardiomyopathy.
The donor's mother reported:
"It was uncanny. When I met the family and Daryl [the recipient]
at the transplant meeting, I broke into tears. Then we went up to the
giving tree where you hand a token symbolising your donor. I was already
crying when my husband told me to look at the table we were passing. It
was the donor family with Daryl sitting there. I knew it right away. Daryl
smiled at me exactly like Timmy [the donor] did. After we talked for hours
with Daryl's parents, we were comforted. It somehow just didn't seem strange
at all after a while. When we heard that Daryl had made up the name Timmy
and got his age right, we began to cry. But they were tears of relief
because we knew that Timmy's spirit was alive."
"I gave the boy a name. He's younger than me and I call him 'Timmy'.
He's just a little kid. He's a little brother like about half my age.
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 them anymore, though. I like Tim Allen
on Tool Time, so I called him Tim. I wonder where my old heart went, too.
I sort of miss it. It was broken, but it took care of me for a while."
"Daryl never knew the name of his donor or his age. We didn't know
either until recently. We just learned that the boy who died had fallen
from a window. We didn't even know his age until now. Daryl had it about
right. Probably just a lucky guess or something, but he got it right.
What is spooky, though, is that he not only got the age right and some
idea of how he died, he got the name right. The boy's name was Thomas,
but for some reason his immediate family called him 'Tim'."
"Are you going to tell him the real twilight zone thing? Timmy fell
trying to reach a Power Ranger toy that had fallen on the ledge of the
window. Daryl won't even touch his Power Rangers any more..."
The donor was a 34-year-old police officer shot attempting to arrest a
drug dealer. The recipient was a 56-year-old college professor diagnosed
with atherosclerosis and ischaemic heart disease.
The donor's wife reported:
"When I met Ben [the recipient] and Casey [Ben's wife], I almost
collapsed. First, it was a remarkable feeling seeing the man with my husband's
heart in his chest. I think I could almost see Carl [the donor] in Ben's
eyes. When I asked how Ben felt, I think I was really trying to ask Carl
how he was. I wouldn't say that to them, but I wish I could have touched
Ben's chest and talked to my husband's heart.
"What really bothers me, though, is when Casey said offhandedly that
the only real side-effect of Ben's surgery was flashes of light in his
face. That's exactly how Carl died. The bastard shot him right in the
face. The last thing he must have seen is a terrible flash. They never
caught the guy, but they think they know who it is. I've seen the drawing
of his face. The guy has long hair, deep eyes, a beard, and this real
calm look. He looks sort of like some of the pictures of Jesus."
"If you promise you won't tell anyone my name, I'll tell you what
I've not told any of my doctors. Only my wife knows. I only knew that
my donor was a 34-year-old very healthy guy. A few weeks after I got my
heart, I began to have dreams. I would see a flash of light right in my
face and my face gets real, real hot. It actually burns. Just before that
time, I would get a glimpse of Jesus. I've had these dreams and now daydreams
ever since: Jesus and then a flash. That's the only thing I can say is
something different, other than feeling really good for the first time
in my life."
"I'm very, very glad you asked him about his transplant. He is more
bothered than he'll tell you about these flashes. He says he sees Jesus
and then a blind flash. He told the doctors about the flashes but not
Jesus. They said it's probably a side effect of the medications, but God
we wish they would stop."
THE VIDEO CLIP: Memory
Transfer in Heart Transplant Patients