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).

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.

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.

  • John

    Thanks Bob. It’s been a challenging couple days around the world, and also at home. I appreciate the reflection on some of the good stuff that is also happening.

  • MrE85
    • Wow. I missed that story…

    • chlost

      I am not sure whether there are more stories like this about him. But it makes me wonder…if so, do we then dismiss everything else that he did throughout his career? We have done that with others who are being accused (rightly or not), their professional careers erased, awards retroactively rescinded.
      Just a question.
      btw, I am female and I have been a victim of this type of behavior from men.

      • MrE85

        Everything? No. But what we have now is a more complex and complicated story. Hero worship is easy. Understanding the real man is a little more challenging.

        • This is a very illustrative portion of the thread to the point of the post.

  • Rob

    Today’s Washington Post has a cool story on what is believed to be the first successful genital transplant, done on an Afghanistan war vet who’d been injured by an I.E.D..

  • Mike Worcester

    The good will always outweigh the bad in the long run; it’s just unfortunate that too often we have to search harder to find that good. Worth it in the end though.

    • Rob

      The forensic evidence doesn’t support your claim, but I support your right to be an optimist. : )

      • Mike Worcester

        //…but I support your right to be an optimist. : )

        And I plan on staying one, ty. 🙂

  • Jay Sieling

    Beautiful post, Bob. Thanks. Every story like this melts snow of cynicism and helps usher in the springtime of humanity.

  • chlost

    What a wonderful reflection on our times.
    Thank you.
    Best wishes to Ashlyn and her family.

  • Guest

    side points: The actual stitching in South Africa 1st heart transplant was done by a Black who was excellent at this fine work. Because of his race, his contribution was deliberately overlooked.

    The first artificial organ (Kidney) was developed in WWII (Poland?) by a doc who had no access to others due to war. He used I think sausage casing as the filter and had trouble pumping the liquid blood. A Ford auto dealer gave him a water pump which was the solution. Mpls. did some of the very first work on artificial kidneys after the war. Others were amazed a nobody in an occupied country had performed the “impossible”.

    Advancements are made with contributions from many players.

  • boB from WA

    I find it interesting that we take for granted the ordinary events in our lives, that once were thought impossible. My question then is this: where else in the everyday things do/can we find the extraordinary? Are we even looking? And then do we take the time to point them out so that others can revel in them as well?

    (Thanks Bob for this gift you give to us)

    Edit – I realized afterwards this is the very question you already posed. Obviously not looking at the ordinary things as well as I thought 🙁