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Skip to 0 minutes and 12 secondsSo to Johan, as a cardiac surgeon, the heart is a mechanical pump that needs to be replaced when it fails. And medical care is centred around this dramatic event, with all the challenges that that represents for high-tech surgery in a middle income country that's struggling to meet the health needs of the whole population. But to Peter, as he so eloquently displayed from a literary perspective, the heart is the centre of our being, at the middle of concentric circles of life.

Skip to 0 minutes and 58 secondsTo Stan, as a transplant recipient, his new heart is both the biological means that keeps him alive as well as the source of motivation and inspiration to make a difference in society through his work at the Institute of Justice and Reconciliation and his other leadership roles.

Skip to 1 minute and 26 secondsSo what is your source of life, of energy, of inspiration?

Skip to 1 minute and 35 secondsPeter spoke of magic, mystery, and miracle. I put some further questions to our presenters to try to tease out some of the more interdisciplinary understandings or perspectives of this issue.

Skip to 2 minutes and 1 secondIt's a very special operation for a surgeon because it's one of the rare operations we do, rare because of the shortage of donor organs. But the most important thing is that it's one of those where one takes an irrevocable step. When one removes the recipient heart-- which was still keeping that patient alive, albeit a not very healthy or good life-- once that heart is out, there's no going back. You have an empty chest cavity, and you've really crossed the Rubicon. One never has a guarantee that the new heart is going to function completely normally, or even keep the patient alive.

Skip to 2 minutes and 36 secondsSo one has that tense time between removing the old heart and putting in the new one and for that new heart to take over the function. That makes heart transplantation so very special, and a very tense time. This is very well described in Chris Barnard's book or in many of his writings where he talks about this time of no going back, of seeing an empty chest cavity for the first time that he's ever witnessed it, and knowing that he'd now taken an irrevocable step with no going back.

Skip to 3 minutes and 20 secondsI think Stan's remarkable phrasing of his experience in enchanting. It enchants me, at any rate. The idea that you can move from a strong heart to a weak heart to a new heart, and that a whole life can be altered around the understandably extraordinary occasion of a transplant.

Skip to 3 minutes and 42 secondsI'm enchanted by it not only because I think Stan is an uncommonly worthy recipient of a new heart and exemplifies everything that one would hope of the occasion, but perhaps particularly because it ties in with so much of what I've been saying about the deep, deep metaphoric implications of the experience of a heart transplant-- the way in which a heart transplant is not simply, as Barnard said, the removal and re-situation of the bloody pump, but rather something mysterious and mystical, whose implications reach out into the far wider ambit of life and what life means, and what life is, and the spirit and the anima and the soul and so on.

Skip to 4 minutes and 27 secondsSo it delights me that the comments of Stan should abut so obviously upon what I was suggesting, that the new heart is not simply a mechanical replacement or anything like that, but an alteration that has something of a far, far more purposive project-like function in the life of a person-- who is not a whole new person. Doesn't have a different person's heart, doesn't have different soul, but is nonetheless occasioned by this massive transformation to consider entirely anew what life might be or mean.

Skip to 5 minutes and 9 secondsI don't mean by any means that the only worthy recipient of a heart should be someone as gracious as Stan evidently is, but I do mean by this that it's evidence, I think, of the extent to which the extraordinariness of the project alters something about human nature-- not just the human nature of the recipient, but of our very idea about human nature. And perhaps, when we consider the extraordinary transformation in natures, one heart is placed in another heart, we should be occasioned also to remember that human nature is about the human, and that one human doesn't become another human, but might become for themselves more human in the occasion.

Skip to 6 minutes and 2 secondsI would have to say that you cannot go through a profound experience such as a heart transplant and not be affected by it. And so I personally have had to think again about the kind of contribution that I am making to my society. So I work for an organisation called the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation. It's an organisation that started out of South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission. And it was felt that the process of Reconciliation was started by the TRC, but it needed so much more work. And so I work in a programme called Building an Inclusive Society. And that's pretty much like my heart, that I moved from brave heart to faint heart to new heart.

Skip to 6 minutes and 57 secondsAnd so this new heart has given me a whole new perspective not just of the physical, but also meaning, in terms of how I can serve the world. If being alive is more than just the technical and biological event of having a beating heart or breathing and thinking, what is that other component of being human for you? What does your heart mean to you?

In dialogue about the heart

The term interdisciplinarity is used to describe how Johan, Peter and Stanley could each offer different disciplinary perspective on the heart and heart transplantation. To stimulate this dialogue, Steve asks “what is your source of life and inspiration?” and then prompts each speaker to give a perspective from their disciplinary background.

This approach, Steve suggests, helps focus on the interface between medicine, healthcare and a range of humanities disciplines, and creates a context in which professionals from a variety of backgrounds can exchange ideas and experiences. After you’ve watched the three responses to Steve’s questions, we would like to hear from you. Can you post a short comment below on What keeps you alive? Please read a few of the other comments and ask your own questions.

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This video is from the free online course:

Medicine and the Arts: Humanising Healthcare

University of Cape Town