Summary and book reviews of When Death Becomes Life by Joshua Mezrich

When Death Becomes Life

Notes from a Transplant Surgeon

by Joshua D. Mezrich

When Death Becomes Life by Joshua D. Mezrich X
When Death Becomes Life by Joshua D. Mezrich
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  • First Published:
    Jan 2019, 384 pages
    Paperback:
    Jan 7, 2020, 384 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Rebecca Foster
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About this Book

Book Summary

A gifted surgeon illuminates one of the most profound, awe-inspiring, and deeply affecting achievements of modern day medicine - the movement of organs between bodies - in this exceptional work of death and life.

At the University of Wisconsin, Dr. Joshua Mezrich creates life from loss, transplanting organs from one body to another. In this intimate, profoundly moving work, he illuminates the extraordinary field of transplantation that enables this kind of miracle to happen every day.

When Death Becomes Life is a thrilling look at how science advances on a grand scale to improve human lives. Mezrich examines more than one hundred years of remarkable medical breakthroughs, connecting this fascinating history with the inspiring and heartbreaking stories of his transplant patients. Combining gentle sensitivity with scientific clarity, Mezrich reflects on his calling as a doctor and introduces the modern pioneers who made transplantation a reality - maverick surgeons whose feats of imagination, bold vision, and daring risk taking generated techniques and practices that save millions of lives around the world.

Mezrich takes us inside the operating room and unlocks the wondrous process of transplant surgery, a delicate, intense ballet requiring precise timing, breathtaking skill, and at times, creative improvisation. In illuminating this work, Mezrich touches the essence of existence and what it means to be alive. Most physicians fight death, but in transplantation, doctors take from death. Mezrich shares his gratitude and awe for the privilege of being part of this transformative exchange as the dead give their last breath of life to the living. After all, the donors are his patients, too.

When Death Becomes Life also engages in fascinating ethical and philosophical debates: How much risk should a healthy person be allowed to take to save someone she loves? Should a patient suffering from alcoholism receive a healthy liver? What defines death, and what role did organ transplantation play in that definition? The human story behind the most exceptional medicine of our time, Mezrich's riveting book is a beautiful, poignant reminder that a life lost can also offer the hope of a new beginning.

While I'd been on planes many times, I'd never experienced the full power of a thunderstorm at ten thousand feet. The small King Air, a six- passenger dual prop, was bouncing around uncontrollably. Every few seconds, it would go into free fall and then hurl itself back up violently. The two pilots in the cockpit were hitting knobs and dials, trying to silence the various alarms that sounded as we rocked violently back and forth. It didn't help that our physician's assistant Mike, who had been on hundreds of flights in small planes before, was screaming uncontrollably, "We're gonna die! We're gonna die!" Given that Mike was such a seasoned member of our team, I could only assume that this particular flight was going badly. When the pilots glanced back to see the source of the screaming and cursing, I could make out the fear in their eyes. I looked at the spinning altimeter and noted that our plane was popping up and down as much as a thousand feet at a time. Outside the window, the ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

This wide-ranging book about the practice of transplanting organs is a privileged insider's look into an everyday miracle. Mezrich moves smoothly between the different strands of his narrative, with the historical material as accessible as the autobiographical...continued

Full Review Members Only (884 words).

(Reviewed by Rebecca Foster).

Media Reviews

New York Journal of Books
This monumental and enthralling history of one of modern medicine's most rousing triumphs is a definitive testament to that hope, and to the brave physicians and patients whose sacrifices made it possible.

Publishers Weekly
Success through perseverance is this book's main theme, and Mezrich does a commendable job sharing his death -to-life experiences in a vital field.

Kirkus Reviews
Starred Review. Medical memoirs have become a significant genre over the past two decades, and this one ranks near the top, in a class that includes the best.

Library Journal
Starred Review. A great read for fans of narrative nonfiction, medicine, and real-life suspense stories.

Author Blurb Pauline Chen, author of Final Exam: A Surgeon's Reflections on Mortality
With When Death Becomes Life, Joshua Mezrich has performed the perfect core biopsy of transplantation - a clear and compelling account of the grueling daily work, the spell-binding history and the unsettling ethical issues that haunt this miraculous lifesaving treatment. Mezrich's compassionate and honest voice, punctuated by a sharp and intelligent wit, render the enormous subject not just palatable but downright engrossing.

Author Blurb Danielle Ofri, M.D., Ph.D., author of What Patients Say, What Doctors Hear
A fascinating examination of our bodies' organs and the intimacy of their placement and replacement. Joshua Mezrich weaves in the history, ethics, and technical grit of how doctors and patients navigate this miraculous second chance at life.

Author Blurb Allan D. Kirk, M.D., Ph.D., Chairman of Surgery, Duke University and Editor-in-Chief, American Journal of Transplantation
With When Death Becomes Life, Mezrich succeeds in giving the reader a glimpse of how a cacophony of human experience can become a harmonious triumph of medical science.

Author Blurb Nancy Ascher, M.D., Ph.D., Isis Distinguished Professor of Transplantation, University of California San Francisco
Dr. Mezrich clearly loves the field he has chosen and wants us, his readers, to love it too. Although he has "demystified" the complicated issues, he has left us with the wonderment and incredible humanity that shine through in the transplant field, and crafted an incredibly down-to-earth read through his own journey of doubts and triumphs.

Reader Reviews

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Beyond the Book

An Organ Donation Reading List

Artistic rendering of a heart transplant featuring two hands holding one heartReaders curious to learn more about organ transplantation after finishing surgeon Joshua D. Mezrich's memoir on the subject have a wealth of options to choose from; here are five recommendations, two fiction and three nonfiction:


Fiction:

The Tell-Tale Heart by Jill Dawson
Fifty-year-old Patrick is a philandering professor with a failing heart. He's saved by a teenage boy's fatal motorbike accident near Cambridge, England. By accident he learns the identity of his heart donor and is haunted by the thought of Drew Beamish, who died on his 16th birthday. He even seems to intuit things about the boy's ancestry through his dreams. The novel explores the idea that a donor heart might carry its original owner's memories and personality, and ...

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