While we slept, human achievement marched on

Unless we pause to think about it, it’s difficult for us to appreciate the daily display of human achievement.

The news business typically doesn’t care about these sorts of things, too often preferring to bring us to depths of evil.

One is not necessarily more or less significant than the other, so it’s always a mystery why these sorts of headlines dominate the news:

  • Van plows through pedestrians in Toronto.
  • Driver who helped in slaying gets prison.
  • Charges: Two strangers sexually assault woman
  • Man is fined for stealing birch trees on state land
  • Roseville standoff ends quietly with suspect’s arrest
  • Masturbating acting teacher gets max jail time

A glance through the local newspaper’s public safety page is a fine way to start a day with a sense of despair. It’s difficult — far too difficult — for human achievement to muscle in edge-wise.

But while you slept last night, surgeons in Milwaukee saved a Hugo girl’s life. A heart transplant was Ashlyn Bohrer’s last chance (I wrote about it Monday).

While surgeons worked to transplant a heart into Ashlyn Bohrer, the family faced a more-than- 24-hour vigil. Ashlyn’s Army Facebook page

Through the power of Facebook and the family’s insistence that we be able to share their experience, we were able to feel the emotional horror of sending your daughter off to the O.R., not knowing how things will turn out, to wonder when the “angel heart” would arrive, to hear that her old heart had been stopped, removed, and replaced. To wake up to the opposite of despair.

Mama wanted to listen to her angel heart….first time of many I’m guessing. Pretty special to witness.

Posted by Ashlyn's Army on Tuesday, April 24, 2018

This is the power of human connection, of shared joy, and shared grief, a medical gift to us that removes the scar tissue of the steady drumbeat of the worst of us, for the healthy heart of human empathy.

It calls us to remember that it’s only been 51 years since Dr. Christian Barnard planted a new heart in Louis Washkansky, who lived only 18 days after Barnard transplanted a human heart for the first time. Now, about seven heart transplants are performed every day.

South African heart surgeon Dr. Christiaan Barnard uses a sketch to illustrate a point while addressing a group of journalists in Rodenbosch, Cape Town, South Africa, Dec. 10, 1967, and explaining how he performed a heart transplant at Groote Schuur Hospital from the body of a fatally injured girl to a man suffering from heart disease. Cape Argus | AP

Barnard has been dead for nearly 17 years.

Before his death, he said “The heart transplant wasn’t such a big thing surgically. The point is I was prepared to take the risk. My philosophy is that the biggest risk in life is not to take the risk.”

Surely, the number of people responsible for saving a young girl’s life overnight is in the hundreds — from the surgeons, to the hospital employee in a waiting room in some other facility, whose job required talking to a family about “harvesting” a heart from a family member who just died, to Louis Washansky, who might well have had the thought that his risk would allow a 15-year-old girl to live 51 years hence.

This is the unequaled power of human achievement, which marches along despite our daily disinterest.