Monday, April 07, 2008

Weird Page Turner Coincidence: Change of Heart

At the beginning of March 2008, Jodi Picoult released a new page-turner, "Change of Heart," and I read it within a few days. "Change of Heart" examines a condemned inmate's desire to be an organ donor. Freelance carpenter Shay Bourne was sentenced to death for killing a little girl, Elizabeth Nealon, and her cop stepfather. Eleven years after the murders, Elizabeth's sister, Claire, needs a heart transplant, and Shay volunteers, which complicates the state's execution plans. Picoult moves the story along with lively debates about prisoner rights and religion, while plumbing the depths of mother-daughter relationships and examining the literal and metaphorical meanings of having heart. The parts of the book where various characters start to believe that inmate Shay is the Messiah turned me off in the end, but I'm afraid I'm not cured of my shameful Jodi Picoult addiction.

Anyway, today I got one of those weird news e-mails from MSNBC, worthy of a Jodi Picoult novel if she hadn't already written "Change of Heart":

Man with suicide victim's heart takes own life; He even married the donor's widow after the transplant 12 years ago.

A man who received a heart transplant 12 years ago and later married the donor's widow died the same way the donor did, authorities said: of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. No foul play was suspected in 69-year-old Sonny Graham's death at his Vidalia, Ga., home, investigators said. He was found Tuesday in a utility building in his backyard with a single shotgun wound to the throat, said Greg Harvey, a special agent with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.

Graham was on the verge of congestive heart failure in 1995 when he got a call that a heart was available in Charleston.That heart was from Terry Cottle, 33, who had shot himself. Grateful for his new heart, Graham began writing letters to the donor's family to thank them. In January 1997, Graham met his donor's widow, Cheryl Cottle, then 28, in Charleston.
"I felt like I had known her for years," Graham told The (Hilton Head) Island Packet for a story in 2006. "I couldn't keep my eyes off her. I just stared." In 2004, Graham and Cottle were married.

Graham's suicide (in the same manner as the heart donor) lends credence to Jodi Picoult's "Change of Heart" transplant recipient's fear that if she received a murderer's heart, she would think murderous thoughts and her behavior would be driven by the motives of the donor.

Check out "Change of Heart," available from Amazon: