Will SA perform world’s first successful head transplant?

Surgeons Source: Google Images

Futurist, author and artist Michael J. Lee and veteran neurosurgeon Dr Bruce Mathew, who teamed up to write a science fiction story about the world’s first human head transplant, believe this procedure could happen within a few years.

“For people with degenerative muscle diseases like late rugby legend Joost van der Westhuizen and late cosmologist Professor Stephen Hawking, head transplants create the possibility of getting a new donor body,” explained Lee.

Chrysalis – a surgical sci-fi story about immortal potential details a head transplant taking place in the very theatre in which Dr Chris Barnard’s cardiac team carried out the first human heart transplant in 1967.

“Our story presents a medically coherent and plausible method of transplanting the body of a brain-dead person onto the head and central nervous system of our main character, Jerry Fischer, who suffers from Becker Muscular Dystrophy (BMD),” said Lee. “There is no known cure for this disease and a head transplant offers Fischer the chance of a second life with a completely new, disease-free body.”

Chrysalis is about transition,” commented Mathew, who is also a former classmate of Lee’s at Rondebosch Boys’ High School. “Medical science has made it possible to transplant hearts, faces, wombs and virtually every organ, including bone marrow.”

With decades of experience in neurological surgeries, Mathew came up with the concept of transplanting the head and the central nervous system, surrounded by the protective membrane called the dura mater. He believes this is the method most likely to succeed in any attempted surgery of this degree of complexity.

“These advances in transplantations allows for a metamorphosis of the individual with renewed quality of life and extension of life, thereby transforming disability into ability,” the brain surgeon commented.

Mathew encouraged Lee to shift his thinking from heart transplants to head transplants after reading Heartbeat, Lee’s 2015 documentary novel that memorialises the first human heart transplant.

Chrysalis is not simply a look ahead at the next great leap forward in human transplantation surgery,” Lee added, “but a philosophical journey into the question of life extension and, ultimately, of the possibility of human immortality. Performed successfully, this procedure would change the course of medical and social history.”

The authors hope South Africa’s world-class medical sector will once again be ignited by a world first, as it was in 1967, by successfully carrying out a head transplant ahead of the rest of the world.

Currently the top new release on Amazon in literature on organ transplants, Chrysalis can be accessed as an e-book or paperback on www.amazon.com/dp/B0816Y23CZ. The book contains more than forty illustrations, including drawings of a head transplant and a cyborg body. To read the background to the novel and the authors’ views on future medical advancements, visit www.beyondheads.com.