From a Nurse’s Heart: Stories from my Nursing Journey

A Transplant Patient: A Spiritual Connection

I finally earned my BSN, passed the NCLEX and got a job: heart and lung transplant unit at Duke University Hospital. To say that that was a challenging job straight out of school would be a gross understatement. I loved the challenge this job brought me; I soaked up knowledge like a sponge. Being that I was in my 30’s, I had enough life experience under my belt to handle the cardiothoracic surgeons—which was a daunting task for many.

One of the things I looked most forward to as a nurse was being able to be a part of “holistic nursing care,” which includes not only the physical human dimension, but the emotional, mental and spiritual. I was quickly able to integrate my practice into three of these dimensions from the beginning, but one dimension, the spiritual dimension, was not as easily obtainable. People are in general, quite private, or perhaps vague, about this area of their lives, but not usually readily available to reveal this deep side to them. Considering how much time I had in each person’s room, I can understand how hard it would be to develop such a relationship with someone—I was so busy handling the tasks ahead of me, assessing their physical bodies, helping people up to the restroom, counting fluid intake and output carefully, reading their rhythm strips, checking on medication schedules and so forth, I hardly had time to sit and chat. There was always a call light going off in another patient’s room, and I had to learn early on how to balance caring for a patient compassionately and thoroughly, with the art of getting out of that room as soon as possible to help another patient summoning me.

Our transplant patients might have known what gender and age a person was from which their new organ was taken, but rarely the circumstances, much less the name of the donor or family. As the nurse, I was never privy to that information, either.

One day, I was in a patient’s room who had received a double lung transplant. She was a petite, middle aged woman who had done a fine job of preparing for her double lung transplant—her lungs had long given up their functionality as her COPD consumed her body. She was recovering extremely well, making laps around the hallway like a champ. I reminded her gently each day she no longer needed to use purse lipped breathing, as she did when she had COPD. Old habits die hard sometimes.

She was a polite and determined lady. She never spoke to me about anything other than answering questions about her condition. One day, when I made my way into her room, she asked me to sit down. Knowing this would put me behind in my rounds, I sensed her urgency to tell me something, and I said, “Sure.”

This lovely woman told me about a dream she had. She met the man whose lungs she now had working beautifully inside her. He was a 25 year old young man named Michael. He was in a motor vehicle accident and he had just a few weeks before that, decided to be an organ donor. He took her through an amazing journey about himself and he was kind and loving in her dream. She was so incredibly touched by this dream, she was in a state of surrealism.

This experience was one of the highlights of my entire career in nursing to date. To have been a part of this experience, by being her caregiver, to his lungs….was incredible. The light in her face and the joy that radiated from her as she unfolded the dream’s sequence to me was a gift I will always cherish.

Dr. William James said, “According to … study of patients who have received transplanted organs, particularly hearts, it is not uncommon for memories, behaviors, preferences and habits associated with the donor to be transferred to the recipient. If you wish to upset the law that all crows are black… it is enough if you prove one single crow to be white.”

Sometimes being a nurse allows one to experience the “things not of this world” that are deeper than human understanding, logic and reasoning.

It has been said, after all, that we are “spiritual beings having a human experience.”


Paul Pearsall, PhD PhD, Gary E. Schwartz, PhD , Linda G. Russek, PhD. Extracted from Nexus Magazine. Volume 12, Number 3 April – May 2005
from NexusMagazine Website. Recovered through WayBackMachine



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