Cellular Memory in Organ TransplantsLit Corner | January 23, 2011
Leslie A. Takeuchi, BA, PTA
In my experience as a physical therapist assistant, I have come to acknowledge the relevance of thoughts, emotions and spiritual beliefs to healing. I recognize the art of physical therapy to be based upon empirical science and a dualism which views the mind and body as separate, thus drawing a sharp distinction between sensory experiences and physical reality, between subject and object, between mind and matter and between soul and body. However, I also recognize that even though my science provides a rational foundation, it does not allow for the importance of the subjectivity and wholeness I see in my patients whose bodies and minds are inseparable.
In my work with the chronic pain population, I have taken a closer look at this relationship of mind and matter, body and emotions, for keys to how people heal. In this search, I looked into theories of emotions or memories being somehow stored in the tissues of the body and later manifesting in the physical form of pain or disease. What was most striking were the numerous reports of organ transplant recipients who later experienced changes in personality traits, tastes for food, music, activities and even sexual preference. Is it possible that our memories reside deep inside our bodily cells in addition to in our minds?
Candace Pert, author of Molecules of Emotion: Why You Feel the Way You Feel, says, "Memories are stored not only in the brain, but in a psychosomatic network extending into the body . . . all the way out along pathways to internal organs and the very surface of our skin." After having discovered neuropeptides in all body tissues, Pert suggests that through cellular receptors, thoughts or memories may remain unconscious or can become conscious-raising the possibility of physiological connections between memories, organs and the mind.
University of Arizona scientists and co-authors of The Living Energy Universe, Gary Schwartz, PhD, and Linda Russek, PhD, propose the universal living memory hypothesis in which they believe that "all systems stored energy dynamically . . . and this information continued as a living, evolving system after the physical structure had deconstructed." Schwartz and Russek believe this may explain how the information and energy from the donor's tissue can be present, consciously or unconsciously, in the recipient.
Paul Pearsall, MD, a psychoneuroimmunologist and author of The Heart's Code, has researched the transference of memories through organ transplantation. After interviewing nearly 150 heart and other organ transplant recipients, Pearsall proposes the idea that cells of living tissue have the capacity to remember.
Together with Schwartz and Russek, Pearsall conducted a study, published in the Spring 2002 issue of the Journal of Near-Death Studies, entitled, "Changes in Heart Transplant Recipients That Parallel the Personalities of Their Donors." The study consisted of open-ended interviews with 10 heart or heart-lung transplant recipients, their families or friends and the donor's families or friends. The researchers reported striking parallels in each of the cases. The following is a sampling of some these.
In one case, an 18-year-old boy who wrote poetry, played music and composed songs, was killed in an automobile accident. A year after he died his parents came across an audiotape of a song he had written, entitled, "Danny, My Heart is Yours," which was about how he "felt he was destined to die and give his heart to someone." The donor recipient "Danny" of his heart, was an 18-year-old girl, named Danielle. When she met the donor's parents, they played some of his music and she, despite never having heard the song, was able to complete the phrases.
In another case, a seven-month-old boy received a heart from a 16-month-old boy who had drowned. The donor had a mild form of cerebral palsy mostly on the left side. The recipient, who did not display such symptoms prior to the transplant, developed the same stiffness and shaking on the left side.
A 47-year-old Caucasian male received a heart from a 17-year-old African-American male. The recipient was surprised by his new-found love of classical music. What he discovered later was that the donor, who loved classical music and played the violin, had died in a drive-by shooting, clutching his violin case to his chest.
A 29-year-old lesbian and a fast food junkie received a heart from a 19-year-old woman vegetarian who was "man crazy." The recipient reported after her operation that meat made her sick and she was no longer attracted to women. If fact, she became engaged to marry a man.
A 47-year-old man received a heart from a 14-year-old girl gymnast who had problems with eating disorders. After the transplant, the recipient and his family reported his tendency to be nauseated after eating, a childlike exuberance and a little girl's giggle.
Aside from those included in the study, there are other transplant recipients whose stories are worth mentioning, such as Claire Sylvia, a woman who received a heart-lung transplant. In her book entitled, A Change of Heart: A Memoir, Ms. Sylvia describes her own journey from being a healthy, active dancer to becoming ill and eventually needing a heart transplant. After the operation, she reported peculiar changes like cravings for beer and chicken nuggets, neither of which she had a taste for prior to the transplant. She later discovered that these were favorites of her donor. She even learned that her donor had chicken nuggets in his jacket pocket when he died in a motorcycle accident.
Another possible incidence of memory transfer occurred when a young man came out of his transplant surgery and said to his mother, "everything is copasetic." His mother said that he had never used that word before, but now used it all the time. It was later discovered that the word had been a signal, used by the donor and his wife, particularly after an argument, so that when they made up they knew everything was okay. The donor's wife reported that they had had an argument just before the donor's fatal accident and had never made up.
Another amazing story, reported by Pearsall, is that of an eight-year-old girl who received the heart of a ten-year-old girl who had been murdered. After the transplant, the recipient had horrifying nightmares of a man murdering her donor. The dreams were so traumatic that psychiatric help was sought. The girl's images were so specific that the psychiatrist and the mother notified the police. According to the psychiatrist, ". . .using the description from the little girl, they found the murderer. He was easily convicted with the evidence the patient provided. The time, weapon, place, clothes he wore, what the little girl he killed had said to him . . . everything the little heart transplant recipient had reported was completely accurate."
Although medical science is not yet ready to embrace the ideas of cellular memory, one surgeon believes there must be something to it. Mehmet Oz, MD, heart surgeon at Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center, has invited an energy healer, Julie Motz, into the operating room during transplant surgery. Initially, Motz practiced energy healing to help reduce anxiety prior to surgery and depression following surgery. Then the team noticed that there seemed to be less incidence of rejection in these patients. They were curious to see what would happen if she were present during the operation. Motz registers, through sensations in her own body, the emotional state of the patient during the surgical procedure. Through her touch or words, Motz attempts to alleviate any worries, fears or anger the patient may be experiencing. She works with the recipient's ability to accept the new organ and also works with the donated tissue so it will accept a new body. The results have been favorable, and the team reports reduced rejection and increased survival rates. This may sound outrageous to those who never thought about tissues having feelings or caring about where they would reside, but Dr. Oz believes that it would be a disservice to ignore even the possibility that this method could help.
More studies are being conducted with regard to the phenomenon of organ recipient and donor coincidences. Pearsall, Schwartz and Russek report that, "research is underway at the University of Arizona on a sample of more than 300 transplant patients to determine the incidence of such transcendent memory phenomena using semi-structured interviews and systematic questions."
Intriguing questions remain. What percentage of transplant recipients actually do feel changes in behavior and personality or report changes in food preference or have new memories? Is there a higher incidence of tissue or organ acceptance in those patients who are aware of their consciousness or who have energy work done? Will ordinary science offer more evidence to support that memories are transferred-or will we need a new science? Perhaps more importantly, what does this transcendent phenomenon have to tell us about other healing events?