'The Match: Complete Strangers, a Miracle Face Transplant, Two Lives Transformed,' by Susan Helfgot


The chaplain tried to go easy on Helfgot, for although his dietary habits could be abominable, she admired the way he never complained about his bad luck‚Äďand he had a lot of it. In her line of work the standard question is "Why has God done this to me?" Helfgot never asked. Maybe he had an answer, or maybe he knew that it didn't help to wonder. She knew patients who just lay there, like inmates on death row, cursing their bad luck. Helfgot wasn't one of them. Sometimes he would get up and stroll around the ICU, trying to cheer everybody up. One day he handed out sushi that Susan had smuggled in.

"Try this urchin. It's amazing."

"Urchin? Um, no thanks."

"No, really, you have to try this. It's unbelievable."

"I'd love to," one patient told him, "but the doctors have put me on an urchin-free diet."

"Esther," the chaplain says, "you may have a case up on six. Heart transplant gone bad."

"How old?" Young people dying are the worst.

"Late fifties, maybe sixty."

Esther gets off on the sixth floor and enters the unit, where a few nurses are crying. She has witnessed this before, but not often. Jim Rawn greets her and fills her in, adding, "You may want the heart too."

A retransplant of a newly transplanted heart? "I've never seen that," she says.

"I haven't either, and I've been here ten years. But we think it's viable, and Dr. Couper wants to take a look."

She glances into Helfgot's room. Close to a dozen people, mostly hospital staffers in scrubs and white coats, surround a small woman Esther can barely see. She must be the widow.

Esther is optimistic. A family that has just received an organ, even if it went badly, will likely reciprocate if they have the chance. She'll come back in a little while, when things are more settled.

Her cell phone rings. It's Chris Curran, the head coordinator at the organ bank. "Are you on the cardiac unit?" he asks her.

"I just got here."

"They say the heart's working fine."

"That's what Jim Rawn just told me."

"We may have a match in the Midwest," says Curran. "Their team is checking it out."

On Saturday, when the organ bank matched Helfgot with a heart, his name was moved from Waiting to Transplanted in the national database. Curran has never met Helfgot, but for years he has watched his name moving up and down the list. It's always satisfying when a patient finally makes it to Transplanted. Now they will have to move him over to Deceased. He looks at the information next to Helfgot's name: type O, age sixty.

"Esther? He could be the one we've been waiting for. We'll check it out on our end."

"Are you sure? The heart's a big enough deal. And I don't remember any of us ever asking for a retransplanted heart. I haven't even met Mrs. Helfgot yet. It's way too soon to go there."

"But do you think it's possible?"

"Chris, I just got here. I'll call you in a little while. I need to walk."

Esther drops the cell phone into her pocket. It's too soon, but her heart is beating faster anyway. They've been on the lookout for quite a while. She peers back into the room. The widow isn't there; she must have left during the phone call. A few doctors are at the patient's bedside. Esther recognizes one of them. He looks upset.

A few days ago the organ bank team thought they had their special donor, but it didn't pan out. This one could work. Helfgot's family might be open to it. Esther walks around the unit, past the room of the other man who was transplanted over the weekend. She pulls out her phone.

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