Louis A. Palivos, J.D., Ph.D.
For several decades, reports have been published by scientists that heart and other organ recipients, acquire the personality characteristics of their donors. These characteristics include the following four areas: A) changes in preferences, B) changes in emotions/temperament, C) changes in identity, and D) memories from the donor’s life.1 This article will review some of these characteristic changes in donor-recipient patients and also attempt to connect the heart, in particular, with Orthodox Patristic Theology.
Candace Pert, author of, “Molecules of Emotion: ‘Why you feel the way you feel,’” states that through cellular receptors there exists the possibility of physiological connections between memories, organs, and the mind.
Paul Pearsall, M.D., a psycho-neuro-immunologist and author of, “The Heart’s Code,” after researching 150 heart and other organ transplant recipients, proposes that the cells of living tissues have the capacity to remember.
The case that was reported by Dr. Pearsall, that convinced me that there is memory transference, was the case involving an eight-year-old girl who received the heart of a ten-year-old girl who was murdered. After the transplant, the recipient had horrifying nightmares of a man murdering her. The girl’s images were so specific that the police were notified. The police, using the description that the girl gave, were able to find the murderer. Based on the evidence that the recipient gave, the murderer was convicted. The factual evidence consisted of time, weapon, place, clothes he wore, and what the donor said to the murderer before she was killed.
Claire Sylvia, a woman who received a heart-lung transplant, wrote a book about her experiences. In her book, “A Change of Heart: A Memoir,” she describes her experiences after surgery: particular changes like cravings for beer and chicken nuggets. These were favorites of her donor. She was drawn to cool colors, not bright red as she used to before the operation. She also became more impetuous and aggressive, that was uncharacteristic of her but was a similar characteristic to her donor.
Researchers documented changes of ten heart transplant recipients, that seemed to support, the parallel changes between the donors and the recipients, such as, “food, music, art, sexual, recreational, and career preferences, as well as, specific instances of perceptions of names and sensory experiences related to the donors.” Following are ten cases that these researchers have documented:
- Recipient is an 18-year-old girl who is able to finish phrases and songs that she did not know before the surgery. The donor was an 18-year-old boy who was a musician and liked music.
- Recipient is a 7-month-old boy who later was 6 years old, and ran up to an individual in church and called out the unknown person as, “Daddy.” The donor was a 16-month-old boy. The recipient called out to the donor’s father in church.
- Recipient is a 25-year-old male who is very sensual. He likes to hug, carries a purse, loves museums, and landscapes. The donor was a 24-year-old lady who was sensual, loved landscape paintings, and was gay.
- Recipient is a 47-year-old male who now loves classical music. The donor was a 17-year-old male who loved to play the violin and enjoyed classical music.
- Recipient is 29-year-old woman who dislikes meat. Prior to the transplant, she thought she was gay, but not afterward. After the surgery, she threw away gay political books. Furthermore, she would feel pressure on her chest/heart area. The donor was a 19-year-old woman who was, “Man-crazy” and died due to the impact of a car on her chest in a car accident.
- Recipient is a 47-year-old man who is giddy, gets hungry but dislikes food. The donor was a 14-year-old girl who would skip meals and had a silly giggle.
- Recipient is a 9-year-old boy who is afraid of water and feels that the donor was very sad. The donor was a 3-year-old girl who drowned at her mother’s boyfriend’s house.
- Recipient is a 19-year-old woman who wants to be on Broadway, be a nurse or a doctor. The donor was a 19-year-old woman who wanted to be an actress but also wanted to follow in her father’s footsteps and become a doctor.
- Recipient is a 5-year-old boy who gave the donor the name Timmy. The donor was a 3-year-old boy and his family called him, “Tim” and his actual name was Thomas.
- Recipient is a 56-year-old male who dreams of flashes of light in his face and suddenly, his face would get red hot. Before the flash, he gets a flash of Jesus. The donor was a 34-year-old police officer who was shot in the face. The killer has long hair, deep eyes, a beard and a calm look like some pictures of Jesus.
These researchers have concluded that “The findings for heart transplants appear more robust and more strongly associated with the donor’s history.”2
Now, I will discuss how Holy Scripture and how the Holy Fathers understand the human heart both physically and spiritually.
The Lord Jesus Christ stated in his Sermon on the Mount, “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God.” Matt. 5:8. He also stated that “Out of the heart comes evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, and blasphemes. These are what defiles a person.” Matt. 15:18-19.
So what is the heart? According to the Holy Fathers, God is revealed in the heart and it is there that man comes to know Him.
St. Theophan the Recluse says the heart is the innermost part of man and is spirit. This is where our self-awareness, our conscious, and our idea of God resides. The heart is both a bodily organ and the center of our being.3
St. Paul articulates the human problem as follows:
For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will
to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do.
If, then, I do what I will not to do, I agree with the law
that it is good. But now, it is no longer I who do it, but
sin that dwells in me. For I know that in me (that is, in
my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with
me, but how to perform what is good I do not find.
For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil
I will not to do, that I practice. Now if I do what I will
not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells
in me. Rom. 7:15-20
This problem is understood by the Holy Fathers to be caused by original sin in the memory of the heart. Original sin causes the heart to be darkened, cloudy, unwise, unenergized, faulty and to be unconscious of God’s memory. The result is that thoughts, passions, and the environment confuse the heart in man to move away from God. Thus, healing is the purification and illumination of the heart.
The Holy Fathers, through their experiences, understand that there are two memories: one for the human body’s cells to function and another for the human memory of the heart in which
God resides. These memories of the heart stopped functioning because of the fall of Adam and Eve.
According to Orthodox Patristic Fathers, humans need healing, as follows:
The purification from the passions of the soul and of the body,
the illumination of man’s heart with the uncreated grace of the
Holy Spirit and God’s gift to man of Theosis to have a vision of God.4
St. Paul understood this in his experience, as follows:
Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not
know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself
makes intercession for us with groaning which cannot be uttered.
Now He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit
is, because He makes intercession for the saints according to the
will of God. Rom. 8:26-27
Therefore, man needs to purify his passions of the soul and body; he needs to be Illuminated, according to St. Paul and the Holy Fathers, by the Holy Spirit to reside in man’s heart, so that man becomes the Temple of the Holy Spirit. “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you which you have from God.” I Cor. 6:19. Theosis is God’s gift to man to be able to “see” God! The Patriarchs, the Prophets and the Apostles had Theosis.
Man has a physical heart that has memory but he also has a spiritual heart that has memory. In the spiritual heart, by the uncreated grace of God, God is both revealed and lives in the heart in those persons who synergistically seek God. God’s uncreated grace works in man’s heart and man is guided by the Holy Spirit.
Analogous in the Orthodox Liturgy about Holy Communion, when the priests pray, “The lamb of God is broken and distributed, broken, but not divided, always eaten, yet never consumed, but sanctifying those who partake,” are human cells that have a memory to repair broken tissue, renew the body but not be consumed.
Heart transplanted memories help us to understand the memory transfer of the memories from the donor to the recipient. The Holy Scripture and the Holy Fathers, in their experiences, help us to understand the memory transferred from Almighty God and the Holy Spirit to the heart of man that resides in man’s heart by God’s uncreated grace.
How awesome is Almighty God’s uncreated grace residing in our hearts!
- Mitchell B. Leister, Abstract, Personality changes following heart transplantations: The role of cellular memory. Feb. 2020. Proposes that the cells of living tissue have the capacity to remember.
- Paul Pearsall, Ph. D., Gary E. R. Schwartz, Ph. D., Linda G. S. Russek, Ph. D., Changes in Heart Transplant Recipients that Parallel the Personalities of Donors. Journal of Near-Death studies, Spring 2002.
- Orthodox Way of Life, Nature of the soul, Mind and Heart, July 29, 2009.
- Archpriest John S. Romanides, Patristic Theology, Parakatatheke, Thessaloniki, Greece, 2004.