WEEKLY NEWSLETTER FEBRUARY 26, 2021

Blessed be the Lord, for He has heard the sound of my pleadings. The Lord is my strength and my shield; in Him my heart trusts; so I am helped, and my heart exults, and with my song I give thanks to Him. ~ Psalm 28:6-7, NRSV

Let me introduce to you Asato Tsuji, who was born in Bofu, Yamaguchi Prefecture, Japan, on February 5, 1996. Around her second birthday, she was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy – which, by age 4, had become what is termed end-stage. She was transported from Osaka University to Loma Linda University Children’s Hospital for possible heart transplantation. “So,” you’re saying to yourself, “nothing unusual above that. Where’s the shock? Where’s the awe?”

Shortly after arrival, Asato was placed on the waiting list for a donor organ. She was initially cared for as an outpatient, but she quickly decompensated. She required hospital admission and intravenous drug support. She was advanced to highest priority on the waiting list.

Then, one day, suddenly and without warning, her heart arrested. Ventricular tachycardia! She was immediately given lidocaine, which chemically shocked her heart back into a normal rhythm. Her heart began to squeeze again. Several more tense days went by. Then cardiac arrest episodes became more frequent, something called “malignant” ventricular tachycardia. Discouraged, the pediatric cardiologists declared that Asato could die at any moment. Clearly, her life was in its final day.

On that very day (June 20, 2000), we got word of donor, a 20-month-old drowning victim in Hershey, Pennsylvania. But how were we going to cross the country, recover the donor heart, and return to do the transplant on Asato, when she might easily die within the next hour or two? Here comes the awe!

Before leaving for Hershey, and to ensure that Asato would still be alive when we got back, we took her to operating room number 13. There we put her to sleep, opened her chest, and connected her to a heart-lung machine. Her body was cooled to a temperature of 20° C. We left her there in room 13, essentially hibernating, while a few of us drove to the airport, boarded a Learjet, and flew east. In concert with other organ recovery teams, we removed the donor heart and returned to Loma Linda. The “new” heart was used to replace Asato’s own “kill-her” heart. It was a perfect fit.

After more than sixteen hours in the operating room, attached to a heart-lung machine for circulatory support, Asato’s recovery was remarkable. Her new heart performed flawlessly. I’m reminded of her story because I just received a photo of Asato on the occasion of her graduation into middle school. She is now 12 years old, and she is living well with her American heart. What are the odds?

However you and I might characterize it – Providence, divine oversight, miracle, or just plain awe – Asato is a miracle personified, one that radiates not only in our own hearts and minds but widely throughout Japan as well. She’s a living, loving example of our daily walk with God.

Enjoy your walk today.

Leonard L. Bailey, LLUSM class of 1969, is distinguished professor in LLUSM department of surgery, division of cardiothoracic surgery. He was LLUSM Alumni Association 1986 Alumnus of the Year and was LLU Alumnus of the Year in 1987.

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