THE heart is overlaid with meaning and significance. So, accepting, in the midst of shock and grief, that the heart of your dead child is going to continue beating inside another child is something that most of us would struggle to do without becoming overwhelmed.
Cole Moreton’s book follows his acclaimed Radio 4 series of the same name, designated Audio Moment of the Year in 2016. It is a searing and vivid account of what happened in August 2003, when 15-year-old Marc McCay was struck down with multiple organ failure and received the heart of 16-year-old Martin Burton, who had suffered a massive bleed on the brain.
The heart enabled Marc to live until he was 28, and the mothers — one a fiery Scot, the other a quiet Englishwoman — eventually and remarkably became friends. The book is extraordinary, not only for the humanity of the subject-matter, but for the accessible way the story is told. It has the tension of a thriller, coupled with economy and a quiet restraint. It is a drama that builds. It induces awe at the workings of the body and the resilience of the human spirit.
Seeing a cold and motionless transplanted heart fill with blood and begin to beat is one of the most amazing sights in surgery, records Leslie Hamilton, who performed the operation. The heart comes back from death to life, enabled by the same fluid used in the United States to enact the death penalty. The operation tests the will to survive both mentally and physically.
“Should it give you even a shred of comfort, please do not hesitate to contact us at any time,” Linda McCay was able to write to Sue Burton. As much as anything, this is a portrait of grief. It moves to tears.
The Boy Who Gave His Heart Away: A death that brought the gift of love
Harper Collins £12.99
Church Times Bookshop £11.70