In March of 1996, forty-eight year old Albert Morrow spent several days recovering in a Georgia hospital bed after a successful kidney transplant. Relegated to a strict diet and regimented liquid intake, his multiple requests for a glass of cold milk were denied by the attending health care personnel. Even in his sleep, the nurses would hear him muttering about drinking milk and eating chocolate chip cookies. During a visit, Albert’s wife, Joyce, learned of her husband’s desire for milk and complained that it must be some kind of reaction to the medication as Albert was lactose intolerant and had avoided dairy in any form for over thirty years.
A few days prior, on a cool night outside of the family farm, Shaun McGregor and his pal Bobby sat outside Shaun’s barn feeling the heavy weight of a small town’s boredom in rural Alabama. Fueled by thirst and an endless desire to speed through the mostly empty dirt roads, the teen boys decided to make a run to the town’s lone gas station and store. Bobby chose a small, two-wheeled motorcycle while Shaun opted for the three-wheel all-terrain vehicle. During their ride, Shaun chose a short-cut through the trees along a very narrow path created by the very wheels beneath him. Arriving to the store seconds before his pal, he declared himself the victor of their unofficial race and his prize would be the purchase of his drink.
The boys sat on the curb at the far end of the store. Bobby drank a carbonated beverage and Shaun characteristically gulped whole milk as the hour of nine o’clock arrived. The grumpy store owner flipped the sign hanging behind the glass to display the word ‘closed’. Before locking the entrance door he yelled impatiently at the boys to go home, as if their presence had any effect on his ability to close the store and retire for the night. He cited their presence out after dark as a violation of the town’s curfew yet the tone and volume of his voice would suggest their crime was much more egregious.
The teens ignored the continued rant of the old man and enjoyed their drinks. A moment later the boys observed a law enforcement car pull into the parking lot. The sheriff often patrolled the local businesses and observed the stores for signs of vandalism or a burglary. Excitedly, the store owner waved down the officer and came out of the glass entrance door muttering and pointing to the boys.
Fear instantly struck the teens and they ran to their bikes. For no other reason than he had reached the three wheeler first, Bobby jumped into the seat, turned the key that Shaun had left in the ignition and sped off down the road. Shaun quickly climbed onto the two wheel motorcycle and chased after his friend. They were still gaining speed when the red flashing lights filled the night around them. Had they paused to consider their infraction, perhaps the officer would have simply told them to go home and at worst, escorted the boys there. With their adrenalin high, the scared teens acted out of instinctual fear rather than sound judgment.
Bobby made use of his off road vehicle and disappeared down the narrow path that winded through dense trees and growth. Forced to remain on the main road, Shaun reached the cycle’s maximum speed of fifty miles per hour and maintained it until the sheriff’s patience had waned.
Calling his dispatch to report the pursuit he was asked if he was able to stop the cycle.
“If I bump him.” His response was also his immediate action. He accelerated and clipped the back wheel of the bike with his front fender. The bike crashed down on the road and then flipped several times after sending Shaun’s body into the air where it would eventually land almost forty feet further down the dirt road.
An ambulance soon arrived to find a lifeless boy amidst torn metal. Albert spent the next eleven years in fairly good health as a result of Shaun’s donor status. While tragic, Shaun’s accident saved Albert’s life and with very little time to spare. The doctor’s had projected a very short life unless a kidney could be found. While thrilled to have her husband alive and well, Joyce observed curious personality traits, previously non-existent, that presented him as a very different person.
Fully recovered from the transplant, Joyce found her usually mild mannered and stoic husband much more youthful, carefree and even childlike. For example, the self-proclaimed couch potato purchased his and hers bicycles and they enjoyed evening rides together. Joyce was surprised at his new interest but eventually decided that her husband was understandably making the most of his extended life on Earth.
Additionally, despite his system’s resistance to dairy, Albert consumed milk daily. He would often complain of the irritating gas that resulted from the intake but would still continue to consume dairy products.The once quiet, reserved man adopted a second language with the use of profanity. Joyce was hardly a prude, but found it unnecessary and unattractive from her loving husband. Joyce almost fell over when Albert brought home an adopted kitten. Her husband had owned over a dozen dogs throughout their years together and would allow them to chase the neighborhood feral cats while snickering at their feline fear. However, his irreverence for the species was not completely abandoned as he named his new pet, “Dummy”.
Albert’s death in 2007 was sad for Joyce but she found solace in the gift of the additional eleven years she enjoyed with her longtime companion. She had long wanted to thank the mother of the young boy who so graciously allowed his kidney to be used to save her husband. Feeling that sufficient time had passed to offer such gratitude, Joyce wrote her a letter. Unable to obtain Shaun’s mother’s confidential name and contact information, she asked the organ donor network that transported Shaun’s lifesaving kidney to deliver her letter and they agreed.
Shaun’s mother, Andrea, read Joyce’s words of gratitude and immediately called her phone number enclosed in the letter. The women talked for nearly an hour. She asked Andrea to tell her about her son. What she learned left her speechless.
Shaun loved milk. He drank it all day, every day.
When asked if he had any pets, Andrea replied that he had several cats. One in particular of which he was quite fond lived inside the house while the others resided outside on the farm. He affectionately called the cat, “Dopey.”
She explained that he loved riding all kinds of bikes. Andrea told Joyce of the accident and lamented over the lack of justice served to the sheriff for his actions. Joyce asked why the young boy had chosen to be a donor at such a young age. Andrea explained that Shaun was close to his grandfather, Albert, and when he had decided to be an organ donor, he took Shaun along as a bonding moment and registered him as well. They had a close relationship and strong friendship but Andrea disliked the grandfather’s excessive use of profanity that Shaun quickly adopted as daily speak.
Joyce tried to lighten the mood a little by remarking that her husband’s name happened to be Albert.
Andrea paused before remarking that Shaun’s middle name was also Albert. Having previously watched a transplant themed television program, Joyce had entertained the notion that some of her husband’s new likes and habits were, possibly, connected to the transfer of the kidney, more specifically the person to whom it once belonged.
In 2011 when Albert passed, there were 28,535 organ transplants performed, according to Donate Life America’s statistics. The most common included the heart, cornea and kidney. A study published in the journal of Quality of Life Research found that twenty-one percent of the cornea and kidney transplant patients studied reported significant changes in their personality, with six percent citing a drastic change having received a new heart.
The storing of memories in organs is knows as combinatorial coding by nerve cells and works directly with the sensory system. The cell memory phenomenon is still supported by many scientists and physicians.