The Phoenix Zine

Top Five Worst Movies About Organ Donation: Number Four, Part One


Well, it seems the bad transplant movies go on and on. Here I had my list of the five worst movies about organ donation all ready to go, when I was talking to my friends the other night and realised I had forgotten a very important one. So now I have six instead of five. To compensate for my miscalculation, I have decided to tie two movies for the number four spot. Thus:

Number Four, Part One: Blood Work

Enter Clint Eastwood, or, in this movie, Terry McCaleb, a hot-shot FBI profiler investigating the crime scene of yet another murder. Except at this crime scene, there is a message written in blood on the wall that reads, “McCaleb Catch Me” accompanied by a 9-digit number. McCaleb goes outside, sees a suspect running from the scene and pursues, running and climbing over fences until he collapses with exhaustion, unable to follow anymore.

Fast forward two years. McCaleb is having a heart biopsy on his new heart, transplanted just 60 days ago. Things are going well, he’s retired and lives on a boat, concentrating on enjoying his life post-transplant. But then Graciella Rivers, the sister of Gloria, the woman who donated McCaleb’s heart, shows up to ask for help. Turns out Gloria was murdered but the case remains unsolved, and Graciella figured out McCaleb, as the recipient of her sister’s heart, might be able to investigate further.

It wouldn’t be a Clint Eastwood movie if old Clinty wasn’t a hero and a martyr all at the same time. Naturally he takes the case, unravelling the answers until he finds out the truth. Gloria was only one of two murder victims, both blood donors with the same blood type as McCaleb, killed in the hopes that McCaleb would get a heart. The killer ends up being the same man McCaleb was chasing at the beginning of the movie, the man who wrote the message in blood on the wall at the crime scene. McCaleb puts his health on the line, taking his anti-rejection medication sporadically and pushing himself so hard in his investigation that he winds up with a fever of 101 degrees.

Which brings up organ donation misconception number two: a transplant is a cure. Instead, a transplant is merely trading one problem for another. Usually it’s death for a lifetime of medications with the risk of rejecting your organ or getting cancer.

However, McCaleb does not seem to realise this. When his doctor tells him she will not treat him anymore unless he gives up the case, he refuses. Instead, in classic Clint Eastwood style, he pushes himself to the next level, chasing after a car and shooting a gun to slow it down.

Apparently no one told him that during his heart transplant his sympathetic nerves were cut, meaning after transplant his new heart takes longer to respond to physical demands. McCaleb would have been warned he must warm up before exercising because in the absence of nerves the heart must get its cues from chemical markers in the body before it will speed up.

If the warm up time is not given, the new heart cannot beat fast enough to fulfill the demands being placed upon it. And everyone knows if your heart is not pumping blood fast enough to your body, your body will not function and you will likely pass out.

And after exercising, chest pain that may have occurred pre-transplant would not be felt post-transplant because the nerves to read it aren’t functioning. Thus, when McCaleb puts his hand on his chest as if in pain after his chase scene, it is completely unbelievable. If McCaleb had passed out, then I would have believed it.

The movie goes on, McCaleb hooks up with Gloria’s sister and begins a relationship with her. Somehow he doesn’t end up in the hospital for his fever and we are led to believe at the end of the movie that all loose ends have been tied up. McCaleb can go back to being retired and taking it easy on his boat, and his heart will be fine.

Believe or not, there are a couple of things I do actually like about this movie. The first thing I like is laughing at McCaleb’s antiquated sayings, such as “he stuck out like a whore in a church.” Secondly, I like how McCaleb struggles with survivor guilt, feeling bad someone had to die for him to live and wondering if he deserved a second chance at life. Although McCaleb’s musings take on a different meaning when he discovers the donor was intentionally killed to give him a heart.

What gets me every time though is how simplistically the movie paints the whole transplant process. Somehow we’re expected to believe that because his donor has the same blood type as McCaleb, all the pieces fall into place and McCaleb is saved. It’s almost as if the killer took an internet course on amateur transplant co-ordinationation to figure it all out, but missed the classes about tissue type, organ size and condition of the organ which also have to be considered for a transplant to be successful.

The point is, the transplant process from donor screening to transplant surgery should always be left to the professionals. I don’t think there has ever been a situation that calls for the “don’t try this at home” disclaimer more than this one.

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