Letter: Denise Troxell

September 24, 1999

One question that invariably comes up when people ask me about my transplant is, "Do you feel different now?"

What they want to know is, am I different in my soul or personality.

Have I been changed? Have I adopted the characteristics of my donor?

While I was in the hospital my aunt sent me a book called, "A Change of Heart" by Claire Sylvia, a classical ballerina who received a heart transplant. Her heart, unbeknownst to her, was from a young man who rode motorcycles and enjoyed a slightly wild life.

I have not read the book, but I did see Claire on a talk show several years before my transplant. She was very articulate and sincere. I had no problem believing her story was possible.

What happened was that a few months after her transplant, Claire, who was a New York Art World expensive wine kind of lady, started craving beer. She began to fantasize about riding a motorcycle, even though she had always disliked them. In short, Claire changed. Dramatically.


She also began having dreams about a young man who would approach her in a sunny meadow, smiling.

To cut to the chase, she found her donor's family, saw her dream boy in his pictures, and his sisters noticed her mannerisms were like his. She believes he is with her.

I absolutely do not believe Claire is lying. When I woke up from my surgery I began waiting to see if something similar would happen to me. It never has to me or any of my transplanted friends.

The problems with the premise are many.

First of all, when I die and donate my organs, I don't want to drag around in someone else's body until they die. I wouldn't mind flying around like an angel, helping people I love, but not stuck in the same old grind.

Secondly, what happens with multiple organs? If I give five organs, do I go with five people? If I receive two organs, are there three of us now?

I can't believe that's The Plan.

I prefer to think of it in Car Talk terms. I am Ruby Begonia, my old red Camry that I totaled last month. My dad is a white Saab 900. Tim Rowland gets to be a truck, Old Copper.

When we die our vehicles go the Great Junkyard and God and the doctors use our parts to help others live.

I had my lungs replaced. (My air filter?)

The man who gave them to me had flown away. I hope he's wishing me well, maybe even looking out for me, but I don't feel him in me.

I wrote to his family a year after my transplant, the anniversary of his death. I pray for them every holiday and every May. They did not answer my letter, but I understand.

I have changed though. I have become much more worried about people suffering, and much less tolerant of meanness. I actually express anger now.

Before my transplant I wrote once a year, long, hilarious letters to friends, but I ever would have pictured myself writing 20 weekly columns.

About one subject.

Maybe my donor was a writer. If he was, and he's around, he's surely suffering through my attempts.

One day in the hemodialysis suite, an elegant woman came in with her twentysomething daughter who had had a kidney and pancreas transplant the same day I got lungs. The girl was not doing well, so while the nurses hooked her up, my brother, Lee, and I talked with the mother. They were from Texas and after three sentences I knew she had two daughter who had attended Ivy League schools and both had ended up needing kidney transplants.

Then in her soft southern socialite voice, she started telling us how both girls had changed. The older one who was a psychiatrist had actually started cursing! The younger one who was only a few weeks out of transplant was depressed!

This lady was certain they had taken on the habits of their donors who, as she put it, must have been non-white rude men. She was obviously at the end of her rope.

Lee and I were dumbfounded. I tried to tell her that I had been out of my head while adapting to the drugs, and that temporary depression is common after many major surgeries. As to the cursing psychiatrist, maybe she just needed to curse a little. Serious health problems would make even an angel curse once in awhile.

As I look back, I feel sorry for that whole family. Their perfect life had changed. Mom needed something to blame. But why not focus on the blessings? Both of her daughters were still alive. They had survived the long wait. Donor families had been so generous.

I have never cared a bit what color my donor was, which side of the tracks he lived on or what kind of person he was. I care that he must have told people he wanted to donate. I care that his family honored his wishes. I can never, ever thank them enough. I am thanking him by living joyfully.

Denise Troxell is Sharpsburg resident who underwent a double-lung transplant two years ago. This is a column on that event, and her life. She welcomes letters, which can be sent to P.O. Box 683, Sharpsburg, Md., 21782

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