People often ask me if I feel any differently now that I have a new liver. With past livers I’ve always answered, “No. I feel the same as usual.” One could debate what “usual” means since I’ve been living with transplants for the last twenty-six years. Is "usual" the feeling after the transplant, or the one before? Or is it somewhere in between? I’ll go with the best of times of each transplant.
Age, better awareness of my body, and a third transplant has given me deeper insight into a little debated, but greatly fantasized topic. Does an organ from another individual, transplanted into a different person, cause that person to take on some of the donor’s characteristics, emotions, habits etc?
Sci-fi has explored various takes on the matter. In 21 Grams Sean Penn’s character is the recipient of a heart transplant. Consequently, he becomes a nicer and kinder person just like his donor was. Can that happen? It’s possible. Just knowing that your life has been extended would make anyone a nicer and kinder person. In The Eye Jessica Alba (Sydney) receives a cornea transplant from a woman who was able to foresee large-scale catastrophes. Sydney, it turns out, acquires this same ability. Whatever.
I can’t claim such radical changes from transplant to transplant, except in my diet.
Second transplant: I loved pasta, egg noodles, spaghetti and rice above all. It was not just a matter of enjoying these things; it was an addiction. A daily dose of starches stilled my hunger. If garlic was somewhere in the mix, that was even better. But please, no tomatoes and for heaven’s sake, light on the chicken and eggs. Vegetables were a rational intake. They’re good for me; therefore I‘ll eat them.
Third transplant: My motto is “a tomato a day (or two or three) keeps me happy”. Give me a large salad any day rather than pasta. I love eggs. I avoid garlic at all cost.
From a pasta loving, super-size me eater, I have transformed into a fish/chicken/meat and vegetable girl. Small portions please.
Have I taken on some characteristics of my donor? Or is there a physical explanation? My answer: maybe.
The physical aspect I will leave to the doctors. As a layman, my opinion is that some of it has to do with your metabolism and how a sick liver interferes with this process. Basically, your taste buds change the sicker you get. Foods you used to enjoy become nauseating. I'm speaking from experience.
Now to the supernatural side, the one that stimulates our imagination: could it be that my donor was a meat and veggie guy not very fond of garlic? Did he have eggs and tomatoes for breakfast? Did he eat four or five portions a day? Did he like sweets? Because I suddenly do.
The only information I have about my donor is that he was a healthy, young man before ending up brain dead. My diet has changed, not because I took on part of him but rather because he has given me healthy, functioning organs.
I was asked whether I wanted to get in touch with his family. I declined. I will never know if I have similar taste buds to my donor. What I do know is that his parents have given me the gift of life. There’s nothing I can give them in return. I can keep their gift anonymous though. According to the Jewish religion, the highest form of giving is the kind that needs no acknowledgement. What they have done shall remain the highest form of giving.