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When Death Becomes Life

Notes from a Transplant Surgeon
Narrated by: Josh Bloomberg
Length: 11 hrs and 2 mins
4.5 out of 5 stars (109 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

"With When Death Becomes Life, Joshua Mezrich has performed the perfect core biopsy of transplantation - a clear and compelling account of the grueling daily work, the spellbinding history and the unsettling ethical issues that haunt this miraculous lifesaving treatment. Mezrich's compassionate and honest voice, punctuated by a sharp and intelligent wit, render the enormous subject not just palatable but downright engrossing." (Pauline Chen, author of Final Exam: A Surgeon’s Reflections on Mortality)

A gifted surgeon illuminates one of the most profound, awe-inspiring, and deeply affecting achievements of modern-day medicine - the movement of organs between bodies - in this exceptional work of death and life that takes its place beside Atul Gawande’s Complications, Siddhartha Mukherjee’s The Emperor of All Maladies, and Jerome Groopman’s How Doctors Think

At the University of Wisconsin, Dr. Joshua Mezrich creates life from loss, transplanting organs from one body to another. In this intimate, moving work, he illuminates the field of transplantation that enables this kind of miracle to happen every day.

When Death Becomes Life is a thrilling look at how science advances on a grand scale to improve human lives. Mezrich examines more than 100 years of remarkable medical breakthroughs, connecting this fascinating history with the inspiring and heartbreaking stories of his transplant patients. Combining gentle sensitivity with scientific clarity, Mezrich reflects on his calling as a doctor and introduces the modern pioneers who made transplantation a reality - maverick surgeons whose feats of imagination, bold vision, and daring risk-taking generated techniques and practices that save millions of lives around the world.

Mezrich takes us inside the operating room and unlocks the wondrous process of transplant surgery, a delicate, intense ballet requiring precise timing, breathtaking skill, and at times, creative improvisation. In illuminating this work, Mezrich touches the essence of what it means to be alive. Most physicians fight death, but in transplantation, doctors take from death. Mezrich shares his gratitude and awe for the privilege of being part of this transformative exchange as the dead give their last breath of life to the living. After all, the donors are his patients, too.

When Death Becomes Life also engages in fascinating ethical and philosophical debates: How much risk should a healthy person be allowed to take to save someone she loves? Should a patient suffering from alcoholism receive a healthy liver? What defines death, and what role did organ transplantation play in that definition? The human story behind the most exceptional medicine of our time, Mezrich’s riveting audiobook is a beautiful, poignant reminder that a life lost can also offer the hope of a new beginning.

©2019 Joshua D. Mezrich (P)2019 HarperCollins Publishers

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    5 out of 5 stars

Memoir and history, beautifully written

When Death Becomes Life is an interesting memoir and history of organ transplantation from transplant surgeon Dr. Joshua Mezrich. While I enjoyed his writing about the history, researchers and physicians that brought us to this point in time with transplantations, I enjoyed his writing about his own background, how and why he became a transplant surgeon, and his own patients just as much or more. Dr. Mezrich always maintains an awareness and respect for the great gift that donors and their families are giving, and reminds readers of that often. I loved reading about the technical details of kidney transplants, but Dr. Mezrich also reminds the readers that even though it may be an almost-routine procedure, it is really never routine. He recounts his enthusiasm at seeing a kidney become pink with blood flow and begin producing urine, and also writes about heart, lung, liver, and pancreas transplants, and the inherent difficulties with them. I thoroughly enjoyed the chapter about how cyclosporine was discovered and what a huge difference it made in transplantations. After all, transplantation is as much about immunology as it is about surgical skill, and Dr. Mezrich recounts all of this in his thoroughly enjoyable book.

4 people found this helpful

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Liver recipient 1988

I am a liver transplant patient, born with Biliary Atresia, transplanted at UCLA. This book is absolutely amazing, it gives GREAT insight on the history of transplantation...I really enjoyed listening to this.

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great education

I work in local hospital in transplant specifically living donor. I found this book to be very educational and very much what all of us in transplant feel daily. My manager recommended this book as a great read. I will recommend to my co-workers.

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Breath Taking!

I'm a living kidney donor, so when I heard about this book, it was a must have. Very fascinating, informative, and a tear jerker!

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Very well written!

Loved this book! I’m not involved with medicine at all and yet I clearly understood everything that was discussed. The author does a brilliant job telling stories in a way that is very relatable. In a way this is more like a collection of hundreds of small stories rather than one big story. There were moments when I felt squeamish as he described the surgeries but he always kept it tasteful and light hearted so it wasn’t too bad.
The thing I liked the most about this book was all the real world stories of how people’s lives were changed forever by this miraculous procedure.
It’s an awesome book! I highly recommend it to anyone!

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An honest real person account

Excellent, well written, interesting book. I appreciate the thoroughness of the presentation of the history,, trials and tribulations of the evolution of transplant surgery.

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Who is Thomas Starzl? Liver transplant heaven.

Consider five lives can be impacted positively with a body donation via surgical transplantation. While Dr. Joshua D. Mezrich covers over 100 years of surgical transplant history and entices you into the OR to witness the “perfusion of a kidney” post-transplant. Here anything lacking perfection equates to morbid outcomes (for patient and surgeon).

"The liver will start pouring bile. The lungs start essentially breathing, the most dramatic organ, of course, is the heart, because you put it in and you kind of ...give a little shock and it just starts beating, and that's pretty darn dramatic."

---Joshua D. Mezrich, MD

Reflecting on “When Death Becomes Life: Notes from a Transplant Surgeon” the book unravels like a vine in a most riveting way. It engages us to question, should a chronically alcoholic woman receive a donor liver? Mezrich recalls his patients with accuracy like “patient is yellow as a banana” and why this is---medically significant.

At University of Wisconsin at Madison Dr. Mezrich orchestrates medical thaumaturgy via expunging organs from death and infusing them with life in new bodies. Gratitude is a quotidian elixir he gives throughout this documented transplant surgery adventure. Must read, reflect and engage others to dialogue. Note, this is not for sensitive types.

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Excellent! Very Informative!

I started reading this book the day after my stepmom had a double-lung transplant, and I found it really helpful and informative. In several chapters, he talks about the organ procurement stage and prepping patients and it really helped me understand all the things happening in the background that we weren't aware of while waiting (for the better part of 13 hours) for my stepmom's new lungs to arrive. It all happened so fast that none of us had time to process what was going, but reading this book really helped me process everything, and it gave me a deeper appreciation for the art and miraculousness of organ transplantation. Dr. Mezrich gives his narrative the same attention to detail as his surgery patients. He brings a sense of humor to his work, admits his shortcomings, and explains how each of his cases has helped him to grow as a surgeon. He also provided an excellent account of the fascinating history behind varioud types of organ transplantation. And while he describes the surgeries in detail, at no time did it feel gratuitous and it never made me feel squeamish. I highly recommend this book!

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Insight to Transplantation

I found this book to be very insightful in regards to the history of transplantation, the thinking of a transplant surgeon and the stories behind recipients and donors. Dr. Mezrich has written the book in such a way that it is not completely over the heads of the common layperson when discussing the technical intricacies of an operation. During these portions of the book I found myself being hyper alert to what he was saying waiting patiently for him to reveal the outcome of the surgery. His inclusion of the history of transplantation allows the readers the opportunity to appreciate the perseverance of the initial surgeons through their trials and failures and to be able to comprehend just how far the procedures have advanced. Dr. Mezrich also shares his personal trials, failures, successes and stories of his transplant patients. Overall, if you are interested in transplants, being a donor, are or have been a recipient or find that you are just curious, it is a worthwhile read.

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Terrible!

Choppy story line and can’t stand for his glorification of using animal and animal farms for organ procurement. This Mezrich guy is behind the curve when it comes to thinking about sustainable living.

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  • BryanS
  • 11-29-19

Excellent insight into all things transplantation

Anyone interested in transplantation this book is a great help. Deals with the history of transplantation and the pioneer's who lead the way as well as fascinating insight into the world of a surgeon.