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Observations placeholder

Ghostly figures after a heart transplant



Type of Spiritual Experience

Inter composer communication

Number of hallucinations: 1


I think one image was the Higher spirit of her donor, but the other images were the spirit beings of the medicines she was taking


A description of the experience

A Change of Heart [Case Histories gathered by William Novak]

Lorna was in her early twenties, with blond, curly hair. She was the youngest member of our group and, at four years and counting, the longest survivor. She was also the only recipient whose donor had been older than she was, which was maybe why Lorna felt more mature after her transplant. But she was understandably bitter that her youth had been stolen away.

"When my friends and I turned twenty-one," she told us, "they were all having parties. I just wanted a heart. After the transplant, my friends dropped away. People my age couldn't relate to me anymore, and they didn't like the way I looked." Lorna had gained a lot of weight from the medications, and her face was quite swollen.

She was one of the first women anywhere to have a baby after a heart transplant. The doctors had warned against it, but Lorna and her husband had decided to take that chance. Lorna knew her donor had been a woman, and she wanted desperately to tell her donor's parents that she was taking good care of their daughter's heart. But the transplant authorities wouldn't allow her to contact them directly, which was terribly frustrating for her.

Lorna had heard from the social worker that the donor's family had donated the heart after learning that the potential recipient was a young mother with a baby. "I believe my donor was, too," Lorna said. "l wrote to the family, and although they'll never know my name or where I live, I let them know that my little girl was now four, and that I recently had another baby. I thought it might bring them some happiness to know I was making good use of my new heart."

Of all the heart recipients I've known, Lorna had the most terrifying experiences. After her transplant, she was confronted with ghostly images that were so spooky and unearthly that they kept her awake at night. She desperately needed psychological help, but the hospital had no program to provide it. This was another major concern in our group: while society had invested millions of dollars in the advanced training and technology that are necessary to perform these medical miracles, when it came to the emotional and psychological ramifications of this dramatic, life-saving surgery, recipients were essentially on their own.

One afternoon, Robbie asked Lorna about the ghostly figures she had been seeing:

"It started out with images in my mind."

"What kind of images?"

"Images of a woman and a man carrying a young child. Then I see this woman lying in bed on the respirator, with her parents around her. I just know they're her parents. That image comes during the day.

"Then it started happening at night when I couldn't sleep. I haven't slept much since the beginning of all this. When everyone is asleep and I turn off the TV, I look in the doorway and see the image of a white shadow. It's the image of a woman. I believe it's the donor."

"What does the shadow look like?"

"It comes toward me, never touching the ground. It has no feet and no face, just a cloudy image that doesn't frighten me. It comes very close to me, and then it disappears."

"Does it have an intention?"

"I can't figure it out. But sometimes there are two more images. They're dark, and they scare me. They have knives or a gun or an axe or something, and they want to hurt me. They keep coming closer and closer. They come in the doorway and stand over my bed, as though they're trying to tell me that I shouldn't be there, or that I shouldn't have lived. The friendly white cloud is trying to tell me something, and the dark images are trying to scare me.

"Finally I just said, 'Leave me alone!' I said this a few times, and now it's back to just seeing the white image again."

"Can you say more about the identity of these black beings?"

"They're hooded, and they don't really have a face. No definition of arms. I always get a chill when I see them. They never touch the ground; they're always in the air. They come from my daughter's bedroom across the hall, or from the hallway. They come quickly to the door, and then very slowly from the doorway to the bed."

"Is there any other sensation besides seeing? Do you hear anything? Smell anything? Feel anything?"

"No, I just have a sense that they want to harm me, or warn me about something. They stand above the light. If I turn on the light they'd go away. But I freeze. I can't move. I want to yell, but I can't make any sound. Sometimes I turn to my husband and ask, 'Did you see that?"'

"And has he ever seen them?"

"No, he never has." She sounded disappointed.

"And is their presence as tangibly real as this chair, or is it another kind of reality?"

"Another kind. I can almost see through them."

"So they're phantoms?"

"Yes, like a ghost."

The source of the experience

Ordinary person

Concepts, symbols and science items



Science Items

Activities and commonsteps





Organ transplantation