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JANUARY 31, 2011
The Match:Complete strangers, a miracle face transplant, two lives transformed by Susan Whitman Helfgot
*****comments by CarolK
I've been an organ donor as long as I can remember. In my teens I needed my parent's signature in order to donate my corneas if I should expire. As I got older and medical science progressed I thought it was wonderful that if something should happen to me, my kidneys, pancreas, what have you might be able to give new life to someone waiting for an organ. I have three friends on the wait list at this moment. As much as I believed in organ donation, when heart transplants became a reality, I was a bit squeamish. I think this had something to do with reading too many horror stories where illegal harvesting of organs was part of the plot. Common sense finally won out and I decided that whatever organ or tissue could be of use to someone else was ok by me. I've made my wishes known to my family and have organ donor designation on my Connecticut Driver's license.
Given all of this, reading The Match:Complete strangers, a miracle face transplant, two lives transformed by Susan Whitman Helfgot was a natural for me. Susan's husband, Joseph Helfgot was the recipient of a heart transplant in 2010. He died during the operation that was meant to save his life. He believed in organ donation as did his wife. Not only did Susan agree that Joseph's recently transplanted heart should be donated to someone else on the list, but she also agreed to have her beloved Joseph's face donated to a stranger in a ground breaking procedure.
Of course the transplant in itself is an interesting story. What makes this the five star read it is, is the picture you take away with you of Joseph Helfgot, the donor, and Jim Maki, the man receiving the face.
The idea of face transplants is fairly new and not without its opponents. Reading this book, it is easy for me to see the need for what some call a non-life threatening procedure. Imagine living with such facial disfigurement, just a hole where your nose and mouth used to be, not being able to eat, to blow your nose, let alone look even remotely acceptable to society as Jim Maki did? Others have faces that have been so badly damaged by burns, animal attacks, war or accidents. To be able to give these people new lives is amazing.
The meshing of the lives of Joseph and Jim and each of their stories is expertly told by Susan Whitman Helfgot and biographer William Novak. I came away with such warm regard for Joseph for the man he was and respect for Jim for allowing his story be told. I have deep admiration for Susan Helfgot and her family who so readily saw the need, respected Joseph's wishes and were willing to go public with their grief and pain. It is an incredible story of everything coming together; the organ donor banks, the doctor, Bohdan Pomahac, who believed that a face transplant could work, his team and the hospital that agreed to take the chance.
Highlights for me...When Jim's face first pinks after the first connection of vessels during the operation, you want to cheer. When Jim first realizes he is growing a beard, something he has never been able to do before, I got chills. Reading about Jim Maki's first look in the mirror and the new face that looked back was a wonderful moment. As worried as everyone was that it was too soon and perhaps Jim was not ready, I applauded his bravery and sense of humor when he said "The guy who orchestrated this did a good job". Susan hugs Jim when they first meet and when she leaves she kisses his cheek and thinks, this is Joseph's skin. How amazing!
Listen to Joseph and Susan Helfgot at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9g7GqadRK5U
See the trailer for the book @ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=my6MgAgxjKM&feature=related
See Jim Maki, plastic surgeon, Dr. Bohdan Pomahac in this video