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Post Elettrocardiotanatogramma, and Other Mysteries of the Beating Heart
Created by John Eipper on 08/17/19 6:39 AM

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Elettrocardiotanatogramma, and Other Mysteries of the Beating Heart (Paul Pitlick, USA, 08/17/19 6:39 am)

I apologize for the lateness of my response to Enrique Torner's post of July 29th; I've been busy on another task, and as I've gotten older, multi-tasking isn't as easy as it once was.

Again, I don't know enough about the specifics of the Pope's medical care to make an intelligent assessment on John Paul I, but if he had low blood pressure, and was being treated with a medicine to lower his blood pressure, it's pretty easy to see how that might not end well. I addition, if he had problems with his liver or kidneys such that he wasn't excreting that drug normally, then even small dose might end up accumulating into the toxic range. But this is all speculation without more information.

I also don't know what an "elettrocardiotanatogramma" is. I Googled it, and saw only citations in Italian, and they all seemed related to the Pope. The test we call "electrocardiogram" in English is spelled pretty much the same in many languages (i.e. in German and Czech merely replace the "c" with a "k"; in Russian it's электрокардиограмма), and is a pretty standard test, but the "tanatos" here makes it something else. JE commented: "With my rudimentary Greek, I decipher elettrocardiotanatogramma as an electric heart examination performed after death (Thanatos). But if the patient is dead, wouldn't there always be a ‘zero' reading, electricity-wise?"

That raises an interesting topic. Many years ago, the discussion could have stopped here, and probably with respect to the Pope, it still could. However, after 1968, with the ability to do transplants the definition of death needed to be clarified. Specifically, when is a donor dead enough to be "dead," but alive enough that their other organs can be transplanted into other people? There are many books about the early days of heart transplants, which, to be honest, I haven't read, but there is legend around Stanford that one of the early transplant donors had been shot, and his assailant had been captured. When it was felt medically that the victim was never going to recover, his heart was taken out to be used as a donor organ for another person in heart failure. At that point, the assailant's lawyer made the case that his client wasn't the murderer, Dr. Shumway was! After the court case, and some legal finagling, the concept of "brain death" has been codified, with clear criteria. So, to answer John's question--after the patient is "dead" (i.e. brain dead), there may indeed still be a heart beat, and the kidneys, liver, etc., may also still be viable as transplants.

JE comments:  Dr Paul Pitlick has shared a number of fascinating anecdotes with me about his colleague Dr Norman Shumway (1923-2006), who was the first American to perform a heart transplant.  I note with pride that Dr S was born in Michigan (Kalamazoo) and studied at the U of Michigan before being drafted during WWII. 

(Paul, I didn't know what to title this post.  "Mysteries of the Beating Heart" sounds like a romance novel or Bonnie Tyler song, but it's the best I could do on a sunny Saturday morning.)

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