I play a lot of tennis, and I repeat the same motions over and over again until I don’t even think about it. It’s called muscle memory. People who play sports or those who play an instrument can relate to this. But I’d never heard of cellular memory until I started writing a story about a heart transplant.
The story came from personal experience. My nephew had just gotten his motorcycle a few months earlier. He went off the side of the road just a little bit and hit a hole, which sent his motorcycle flying and he broke his neck and died. If the wheel had been an inch to the right or left, he might have missed the hole and driven off. But it didn’t. And that’s when we found out that Jason had designated himself as an organ donor on his license, something he’d never talked about with his parents.
After Jason died I decided to write a story about a heart transplant, a way of working through the grief while keeping his story alive in my own heart. But during research for my book, IN A HEARTBEAT, it became clear that there are many things scientists and doctors don’t understand all that well, including the connection between the heart and the brain.
The heart has been found to have its own complex nervous system, which influences the communication between brain and heart. Cellular memory is the idea that memory is stored not just in our brains, but at the cellular level. If every cell in our body has its own mind and if you transfer tissues from one body to another, then the cells from the first body will carry memories into the second body. Although IN A HEARTBEAT is fiction, there are people I read about who experienced profound personality changes after receiving donated organs, who suddenly started liking different types of music and food than before, and others who dreamed of their heart donors.
I knew that this would be the bridge for my two characters – a heart that would connect them in more ways than just as a donated pump. Eagan, who is so different from Amelia, helps her learn to live life to the fullest by the personality traits she passes on to her. And those newfound traits end up leading Amelia back to Eagan’s family.
Regardless of how memories are stored, there is one major characteristic that all heart recipients share: gratitude. And that’s something they’ll keep in their hearts forever.
If you’re interested in learning more, here’s a link to a video about cellular memory and heart transplants: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QK6iPXHY_Nc
And here’s a link for organ donation: http://www.donatelife.net/
Loretta Ellsworth is a former teacher and a graduate of Hamline University in the MFA Program in Writing for Children. She is the author of THE SHROUDING WOMAN, a CCBC Choice and Rebecca Caudill Nominee; IN SEARCH OF MOCKINGBIRD, a Teen’s Top Ten nominee, an ALA and IRA Notable, winner of the Midwest Bookseller’s Choice Honor Award for Children’s Literature, and was named to the New York Library List of Teenage Books; IN A HEARTBEAT, a Midwest Connection’s Pick and a ALAN Pick, and UNFORGETTABLE (Sept. 2011)