Susan Helfgot's husband struggled with heart disease and, when he died, she made the difficult decision to donate his face. It was given to a Vietnam veteran living the life of a recluse while he awaited a transplant. In "The Match," Susan Helfgot writes the heartfelt account of this story.
Read an excerpt below from the book and head to the "GMA" Library to find more good reads.
For a dying man, it is not a difficult decision because he knows he is at the end. If a lion chases you to the bank of a river filled with crocodiles, you will leap into the water, convinced you have a chance to swim to the other side.
–Dr. Christaan Barnard
Monday, April 6, 2009, late morning.
Brigham and Women's Hospital, Boston.
A calculated quiet has fallen over the normally frenetic and noisy cardiac intensive care unit. Nurses stand in groups of two or three, speaking quietly. Others attend to their patients' life-or-death concerns in slow and measured movements out of respect for what has just happened.
Death has come to the floor. Not just any death, although all deaths are tragic in the cardiac surgical ICU, but the death of a patient who has become a fixture here, and for many of the staff, a friend. Joseph Helfgot had battled heart disease for more than a decade, and for the past two years he was cared for by the people who now stand around in stunned silence.
He came so damn close, inching up on the list of patients waiting for a new heart. Only a third of them ever get there, and he was one of the lucky ones. Just two nights ago the New England Organ Bank finally matched the heart from a man who had just died. Word spread quickly. Helfgot was watching late-night TV while his wife slept. The phone woke her up. "Mrs. Helfgot, it's Dr. Lewis. I think we found a heart. Don't rush, take your time, but start putting things together."
"Joseph, we have a heart!"
Ignoring the doctor's advice, they rushed to the hospital, barely taking time to say goodbye to their two boys, who were camped out in the family room, half asleep, ready for bed.
"Bye, Dad. We'll see you after the operation."
At the hospital e-mails flew around the floor. Off-duty staff were copied: Joe's getting a heart! That was Saturday night. Two days later elation has turned to grief.
Earlier that morning.
Dr. Jim Rawn, the surgeon who has orchestrated Helfgot's day-to-day care during his frequent stays in the ICU, steps into the surgical unit. It is barely 6 a.m., but the place is jumping. Two new hearts came in over the weekend, Helfgot's and another one.
Dr. Rawn likes Helfgot, a market research executive who works in the movie business. He knows he has broken a cardinal rule: Don't get too close. But sometimes a heart patient pierces through the cloak of aloofness that intensive care physicians wear like armor. Hollywood Joe, as the nurses call him, is one of them. Rawn has learned the hard way that he shouldn't become too attached. Although the Brigham's cardiac unit is one of the finest in the country, not every transplant patient who comes in here will walk out the door. Better to check your emotions before you come to work, because it hurts too much when you get close.