A heart surgeon’s quest to understand our most mysterious organ


The famous musical Cursed Yankees and the German heart surgeon would agree with these lines from the song “(You’ve Gotta Have) Heart”. You have to have a beating heart to live. At my age of 75, it would have beaten about 3 billion times. Yes, billions. The heart starts beating 22 days after conception.

Even though I’m a doctor, I never knew or learned these basics until I recently had a heart rhythm problem. Out of the blue, as part of a typical blood pressure assessment, it was found that I needed a pacemaker quickly to avoid sudden death. Just before Christmas, I gratefully received a pacemaker, supposed to prevent this risk. I call him Pacey.

During this process, my childhood best friend, who also has heart problems, recommended this book to me. I quickly read it myself, then gave it as a gift to my internist and cardiologist. What a surprise it turned out that this famous German open-heart surgeon wrote such a humanistic book that resembles an autobiographical novel with scientific references. Not only that, but it’s written beautifully and poetically, probably thanks in part to the translator.

What happens to this German surgeon is that for many years he feels that something is missing in his understanding of the heart and of himself, so he decides to go on a long journey of research to find out more on the heart beyond technical knowledge. Like the Damn Yankees, he seeks the emotional heart.

He discovers, for example, that oxytocin – the so-called “love hormone” which was thought to be secreted only in the brain – is also released in the heart. He argues that it is perhaps more than popular wisdom that the heart, not the brain, is the source of love, courage, strength, wisdom, and more – all the best things. that our great thinkers have written about humanity over time. Additionally, there may be hitherto unknown electrical connections between the heart and the brain that are being discovered.

Friedl ends up wondering if there is a consciousness of the heart, a cardio-cognitive consciousness. Should we think of a “couples therapy” of the brain and the heart? He ends with ways to keep our hearts as healthy as possible and, in his case, to become a holistic heart board doctor.

Of particular interest on the psychiatric side is a topic that seems overlooked in the book, namely whether the heart causes symbolic or real memories that can be transplanted to the recipient via another’s heart. This concern sometimes arises in heart transplant candidates who, for example, may wonder if their new heart will love their family like the old one. Another concern is whether their personality might change. A patient discovered this change after the transplant1:

“I love putting on headphones and playing loud music, something I’ve never done before.”

He was 45 years old, while the donor was a 17-year-old boy who liked this kind of music.

In the same article, there was a report on a larger study from Vienna, Austria, where around 80% of participants said their personality had not changed, but many seemed defensive when asked. About 15% said they had changed, but because of the life-threatening event, while about 5% felt a distinct personality change towards that of the donor. One putative mechanism is cellular memory, whether epigenetic, DNA, RNA, or protein memory. Another could be intracardiac neurological memory.

Whether you’ve ever had heart problems or not, you’ll learn something about what moves your life forward, from the technical to the spiritual, and you’ll appreciate it even more. If you’ve taken your heart for granted, you won’t.

Doctor Moffic is an award-winning psychiatrist who specializes in the cultural and ethical aspects of psychiatry. A prolific writer and speaker, he received the unique designation of Hero of Public Psychiatry from the Assembly of the American Psychiatric Association in 2002. He is an advocate for mental health issues related to climate instability, burnout professional, Islamophobia and anti-Semitism. for a better world. He sits on the editorial board of Psychiatric timeMT.


1. Seriously scientific. Can a heart transplant change your personality? Discover the magazine. July 31, 2014. Accessed March 18, 2022. https://www.discovermagazine.com/health/can-getting-a-heart-transplant-change-your-personality


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