Oct 10, 2022

The Organ Thieves: The Shocking Story of the First Heart Transplant in the Segregated South

The Organ Thieves: The Shocking Story of the First Heart Transplant in the Segregated South

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The Organ Thieves audiobook

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Review #1

The Organ Thieves audiobook free

If Bruce Tucker had been the one who needed the heart and Joseph Klett was the potential donor I am absolutely sure Humes and Lower would have done a lot more to locate his family before removing his heart/organs to transplant into a black man. This is the reason why minorities who were living during this period and are still around dont fully trust doctors. These people got away with breaking the law, stealing organs and the law failed to punish them for their crimes. This story is very disturbing but that is not why I gave this book only 2-1/2 stars. I did that because of the false advertising. The title is The Organ Thieves: The Shocking Story of the First Heart Transplant in the Segregated South but only about 10% of the book is devoted to that topic and other 90% is the history of organs transplant.


Review #2

The Organ Thieves audiobook streamming online

Great history of Richmond, and its sad beginnings of slavery and mistreatment. The book covers the 2 facets of history and medical pioneers and how organ transplants have changed many lives. How we arrived at this capability is open to speculation on its roots.


Review #3

Audiobook The Organ Thieves by Chip Jones

Fascinating history of Richmond and VCU. Things I never knew growing up in the city or attending VCU. What perfect timing for its release, a conversation starter on racial injustice and medical ethics. Highly recommend!


Review #4

Audio The Organ Thieves narrated by JD Jackson

3.5 stars. Thanks to NetGalley and Simon & Schuster for this powerful look at some little known events in the segregated south and in the improvement of medical care with some groundbreaking discoveries and techniques. Such improvements came along with some horrific experimentation described in the book. Years of meticulous research resulted in this book.

This was a long book with much detail and digressions which hindered the flow of reporting for me. The story centres around the case of a black man in Richmond, Virginia in 1968. He was made a heart and kidney donor without the consent of his family. Bruce was a hard-working man in his 50s who sent money home regularly to support his son and mother. One day, while taking a break from his work at an egg sorting business he fell off a fence where he was sitting. He sustained a brain injury and was taken to the research hospital in Richmond, considered to be one of the best in America for experiments and innovations. Being black and with the smell of liquor on his breath, he was thought to be a derelict. Things didn’t go well for him.

We don’t read about Bruce Tucker until 30% into the book. We get an early history of the days when Richmond was a centre of the slave trade, mentions of the civil war, growth of the tobacco industry and other businesses, and details about some of their most distinguished citizens and influential doctors.

This book revolves around racism, medical ethics, malpractice, experimentation on animals, the prejudice and injustice endured by black men in the south. Doctors were racing to gain fame for new, innovative medical procedures leading to professional rivalry.

The author reveals a shameful history when the education of early medical students was changed from lectures to a more hands-on approach studying anatomy. To learn by this method the students required bodies to dissect. Bodies were unearthed at night from segregated black cemeteries. Students studied the bodies at night under the guidance of medical doctors. There was a separate rat-infested hospital for black patients.

By the 1960s, laws were passed to integrate schools, universities and hospitals but some of the old attitudes still prevailed. The hospital in Richmond became a leader in kidney transplants and the doctors were hoping to do one of the first successful heart transplants, following some experiments with dogs.

When Bruce was brought into the hospital, the top researchers thought they were ready to perform a heart transplant. Bruce had been placed on a respirator and his heart was still beating when it was removed from his chest. It was reported that his EEG showed no brain activity. It was transferred to a white businessman. The time of death had been always been based on the cessation of the heart and other vital organs and not by brain death. Bruces heart was still beating when cut from his chest.

To do a transplant, permission had to be given by next of kin, but little effort was made to find them. In Bruces pocket was a business card giving the address and phone number of his brothers shoe repair shop very near the hospital but this was overlooked. On arriving at the hospital, he inquired about his brother’s welfare. He was treated in a callous manner. Finally, he learned Bruce was dead and the coroner informed him that both heart and kidneys were missing from the body.

The Tucker family sued the hospital, and the jurors had to go solve the dispute about the time of death. Was Bruce still alive when his beating heart was removed, or when cerebral activity ended? Some of the most prestigious doctors in the country were on trial and others were testifying in their defence. The hospital and the doctors were found not guilty of malpractice. The Tucker family received no monetary compensation as the statute of limitations for negligence had run out, depriving his son and mother without his monthly payments to them.

Some good did come out of the trial as stringent rules for heart and kidney transplants we’re put in place.


Review #5

Free audio The Organ Thieves – in the audio player below

I picked this one up expecting a story somewhat like The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks or The Radium Girls but it was so much more than that. It doesn’t read as a story throughout but it gives quite the comprehensive history of the study of anatomy and progress towards organ transplantation in the US. The dark undercurrent is that much of the progress was made by taking advantage of minorities and the poor. The book details serious offenses against humanity including grave robbing and organ stealing, that was mostly overlooked… or even pardoned because the victims were deemed less than. It’s very heavy on the science and history, so be prepared for that going in.

This book goes into all of the aspects that made Richmond what it was at the time of the accident that leads to Bruce Tucker’s stolen organs. From the first settling through the tobacco trade which lead to the uptick in slavery, through the Civil War and on through the continued marginalization of African Americans. The perfect storm of crimes against the black community is described with hit upon painful hit of human rightsviolations leading right up to the day Bruce falls off a fence, hits his head and is handed back to his family sans his heart and kidneys.

This book will shock and horrify you but it is so important that we acknowledge the truths of history and do what wecan to right thewrongs. We owe a great debt to these unspoken heroeswho unwittingly and unwillingly donated their bodies for experimentation with no compensation to them or their families, like Henrietta Lacks and Bruce Tucker, without these nameless people we wouldn’t have half the medical advances we have today.

Thanks to Netgalley and Gallery Books for providing me with a review copy of this novel in exchange for my honest opinion.


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