“ARE YOU READY?
Reader's Digest Canada|May 2021
EVERY SECOND MATTERED AS A TEAM OF SURGEONS RACED TO REPLACE SIX VITAL ORGANS IN TWO PATIENTS
Bryan Smith

Daru Smith was talking to his doctor and sister one day in December 2018 when he began to die. He saw their forms grow dim, a dark curtain coming down on them and himself in his fluorescent-lit hospital room at University of Chicago Medicine. Then the 29-year-old was above it all, looking into a hole in the ground where a torrent of water was swirling like a giant draining sink.

And then he was in a hallway. At the end of it glowed a white light. He felt at peace. No more heart palpitations, no flutters, no aches. He saw pictures on a wall. Scenes from his life. His son being born. It felt good, the light. Until Daru realized: This is what happens when you die. He turned around and began to run. The light pulled him. I gotta fight, he said to himself.

Daru had been sick. A few weeks earlier, he’d gone to the emergency room with a cold he couldn’t shake. But tests showed it was much more than that. Daru was in cardiogenic shock, a condition in which the heart can’t pump enough blood to meet the body’s needs. He also had something called sarcoidosis, a rare autoimmune disease that can cause the body to overproduce certain cells that all but shut down organs—in Daru’s case, the heart, liver and kidneys.

That meant Daru needed all three vital organs replaced, a procedure so complex and risky that only 15 had been performed in the United States by that point. He would need the rarest of donors, one with three healthy organs compatible with Daru’s blood type and strong enough to support his nearly two-meter-tall body.

Daru fought the light long enough that his eyes fluttered and opened. “Hey, where’d you go?” said Daru’s cardiologist, Bryan Smith. “Thought we lost you for a second.”

SARAH McPHARLIN sat in a spare room at UChicago Medicine, waiting to plead for her life. She was there to meet with the centre’s transplant evaluation team.

As different as Sarah was from Daru— she’d grown up in a tree-lined suburb of Detroit, gone to graduate school, travelled the world; he was raised by a mother who managed a Harold’s Chicken Shack in Chicago, where he worked until he found a better-paying job as a truck driver—they were, in more important ways, alike.

Like Daru, Sarah was 29. A rare autoimmune disease—an inflammatory condition called giant cell myocarditis—had attacked her heart. At 12, Sarah had had a heart transplant, but over the years the replacement organ also began to fail. Surgeons had to open her chest five more times to repair ongoing problems. Complications from years of procedures and medications had all but destroyed her liver and kidneys. Her only hope, too, lay in a triple transplant.

But there were some ugly realities that needed to be addressed: The degree of difficulty of a heart transplant doubles with each previous cardiac operation. Sarah’s numerous procedures had left her heart buried in scar tissue. This “hostile” chest, as surgeons call it, makes it harder for them to locate the arteries and veins they will need to disconnect and reattach. What’s more, she was so physically weak that doctors weren’t sure she could survive such a gruelling surgery.

And then there’s the macabre math that goes into such decisions. A triple transplant means using three organs that could potentially save three other patients. Does it make sense to use them on a single long shot?

Dr. Nir Uriel, a heart specialist, was at first skeptical about Sarah’s case. She was as pale as the hospital sheets. She had almost no muscle mass. Her chest seemed to have collapsed in on itself, while fluid swelled her arms and abdomen. She could barely speak a sentence without gasping for breath. But when Uriel asked what she planned to do post-transplant, the words she could get out moved him.

She’d travel, she said, maybe to Europe, where she had visited as a student in high school. She’d restart her career as an occupational therapist. Beyond that? She loved spending time with her family. They were inseparable.

Before the day was out, Sarah had spoken with nearly 30 members of the transplant evaluation team. Afterward, they unanimously voted to move forward, each one seeing what Uriel had seen: someone who, though facing death, radiated life.

For both Sarah McPharlin and Daru Smith, it was now a waiting game. Waiting for organs to become available. Waiting, to put it in blunt terms, for the right person to die.

Continue reading your story on the app

Continue reading your story in the magazine

MORE STORIES FROM READER'S DIGEST CANADAView All

News from the WORLD OF MEDICINE

EXERCISE PROTECTS THE DECLINING BRAIN

4 mins read
Reader's Digest Canada
May 2021

“ARE YOU READY?

EVERY SECOND MATTERED AS A TEAM OF SURGEONS RACED TO REPLACE SIX VITAL ORGANS IN TWO PATIENTS

10 mins read
Reader's Digest Canada
May 2021

Why Do You Ask if I Was a Neurotic Kid?

DESPITE REASSURING FRIENDS and strangers that I had loving parents and a stable upbringing, I’m often asked if I was a neurotic kid. My immediate response is always “No! Why would you even think that?”

2 mins read
Reader's Digest Canada
May 2021

The Wolf Who Trusted Too Much

Takaya roamed B.C.’s coastline with little fear that a human would harm him—until one did

9 mins read
Reader's Digest Canada
May 2021

How Can Canada Be More Accessible?

We quiz Jewelles Smith, disability activist

2 mins read
Reader's Digest Canada
May 2021

House Calls

Virtual appointments are convenient and safe—but are they effective?

4 mins read
Reader's Digest Canada
May 2021

Good Brew

How an Ottawa kombucha maker helps people recovering from addiction

2 mins read
Reader's Digest Canada
May 2021

GOOD NEWS Five Reasons to smile

A SECOND LIFE FOR CHOPSTICKS

4 mins read
Reader's Digest Canada
May 2021

Character Studies

In lockdown, Mom and I were able to move past our clashing personalities and connect

6 mins read
Reader's Digest Canada
May 2021

A WORLD OF WORRY

Compounding crises have made everyone anxious, but how do you know if you’ve slipped into a more serious disorder—and what do you do about it?

9 mins read
Reader's Digest Canada
May 2021
RELATED STORIES

BUFFY & HER PUPPY!

The Akita to Happiness Los Angeles, April 21

1 min read
Star
May 17, 2021

Their First Apartment Together Launched a Small Business

Just out of NYU, David Zhang and Sarah Kim turned their Bushwick rental into a home-furnishings lab.

2 mins read
New York magazine
April 26 - May 9, 2021

Baby No. 2!

FACING HURDLES GETTING PREGNANT A SECOND TIME, KHLOÉ KARDASHIAN OPENS UP ABOUT THE PROCESS.

1 min read
Star
April 05, 2021

days of our lives

BED AGAIN On their wedding day, Xander is shocked to find “Sarah” (really Kristen in disguise) in bed with Rex. “Sarah” claims she’s in love with Rex and sends Xander packing. Meanwhile, the real Sarah tries to break out of the secret room, to no avail.

4 mins read
Soap Opera Digest
April 05, 2021

INSIDE BRITNEY'S NIGHTMARE

A SHOCKING NEW DOCUMENTARY EXPOSES HOW BRITNEY SPEARS WAS USED AND ABUSED BY PEOPLE SHE TRUSTED.

2 mins read
Star
March 01, 2021

NOSH ON THIS

When it comes to bagels, Sam Brickman doesn’t mess around. He’s got the recipe down to a science to achieve the bread’s signature texture—crisp on the outside and oh-so-soft on the inside.

3 mins read
Traverse, Northern Michigan's Magazine
February 2021

Into the DEPTHS

PAINTING THE FIGURE NOW EXPLORES HOW WE VIEW THE HUMAN FORM THROUGH A MODERN LENS.

5 mins read
American Art Collector
December 2020

No Experience Needed

Experienced Plant Enthusiasts Share Their Tips and Favorite Plants

4 mins read
Central Florida Ag News
January 2021

AMAZON BUYS 11 JETS FOR 1ST TIME TO SHIP ORDERS FASTER

Amazon said this week that it bought 11 jets from Delta and WestJet airlines to boost its growing delivery network and get orders to shoppers faster.

1 min read
Techlife News
Techlife News #480

220 minutes with … Sarah McBride

Strolling Wilmington with Delaware’s history-making new state senator.

6 mins read
New York magazine
January 4-17, 2021