heart and hands

When I first started researching heart transplants, I’d never heard of the theory of cellular memory, which is the idea that memory is stored not just in our brains, but at the cellular level. If every cell in our body has its own mind and if you transfer tissues from one body to another, then the cells from the first body will carry memories into the second body.

I read about many cases of heart transplant recipients who felt as though they’d inherited new memories along with their new hearts. I read about a woman who’d received the heart of a young man who’d died after being stabbed in his lower back. After the surgery she experienced shooting pains in her lower back. Her husband reported that during the night she’d have nightmares and wake up screaming, pointing to her lower back.

I read about people who experienced profound personality changes, who suddenly started liking different types of music and food than before, and others who dreamed of their heart donors. In his book The Heart’s Code, Paul Pearsall described the case in which a young girl received the heart of a murdered girl and who had nightmares about a man attacking her. Her description of the man was so detailed—the time, the weapon, the place, the clothes he wore, that her psychiatrist decided to call the police, and they were able to arrest the man based on her description.

Candace Pert is a scientist who has been studying how chains of amino acids, called neuropeptides, send messages back and forth between the brain and the body. It used to be thought that neuropeptides only existed in the brain, but now they’ve been found throughout the whole body, especially in the heart. And the heart has been found to have its own complex nervous system, which influences the communication between brain and heart. This may help explain why heart transplant patients have these experiences more often than those who have other organ transplants.

What scientists don’t understand is why some people claim to have these memories and others don’t. Many doctors feel that these experiences are just side effects of the immunosuppressive drugs that patients take. In some online blogs I read, patients stated that they don’t tell their doctors about these feelings even when they do have them. I doubt there’s enough known about cellular memory to draw any conclusions at this time. But it does warrant more research and transplant patients do need validation of their feelings.

After reading these accounts, I knew that this would be the bridge for my two characters—a heart that would connect them in more ways than just as a donated pump. Eagan, who is so different from Amelia, helps her learn to live life to the fullest by the personality traits she passes on to her. And those newfound traits end up leading Amelia back to Eagan’s family in In a Heartbeat.

If you’re interested in organ donation, visit Donate Life America.