Hearts

Today, we’re going to learn about one of my favorite things: hearts. Specifically, we’ll be talking about heart transplants.

Pig heart from a lab in which I worked

There are various ways a heart can be damaged.

It can be born that way (congenital defects). From a medical and engineering standpoint, these defects are fascinating. Blood can take such strange pathways, and the surgeries and devices that have been made to correct such defects are technical marvels. From the standpoint of being a human being, they are heart breaking.
It can become that way. It can be injured in an accident or afflicted by cancer. It can be infected. Poor diet may harden the arteries, potentially causing heart attack and muscle death. The mitral valve can become floppy. The aortic valve can become calcified, sometimes giving a sickening crunch upon dissection. The heart may change shape to respond to other maladies and lose function as a result. The electrical circuitry can be blocked or go haywire. The heart can simply wear out from old age.
I could go on.

There are so many ways physicians can attempt to repair the human heart.
We can give scores of medicines. We can do corrective surgery, open-chest with a heart-lung machine or laparoscopically with a Da Vinci robot. We can reconnect mis-matched vessels and close up openings. We can repair valves. We can transplant valves and arteries – autologous, xenologous, or manufactured. We can implant a whole range of devices: stents, occluders, LVADs, RVADs, continuous flow, pulsatile flow, pacemakers, parachutes, catheters, rings, oh my goodness, the list goes on.

However, many of the devices listed above designed for end-stage heart failure are not approved as “destination therapies,” meaning they can only help support a patient while they wait for something better. There seems to be only one  thing that can “fix” a diseased human heart: a heart transplant. (The link is a video interviewing a transplant patient, not a video of the surgery itself. It’s very moving and informative.)
How wonder-ful is that? We have the best technology the world has ever known, and more comes out every day. Yet the best treatment we can offer a patient is to give them a new heart, a God-designed piece of technology that works better than anything.  Wow.

Now, in the original tradition of this blog, I now transition to extended metaphor.

Extended Metaphor

The human heart, the spiritual heart, is damaged. I have rebelled against God. I have sinned over and over again. People have sinned against me and wounded my heart. Each wound is like a slash across my heart, and a little bit of muscle dies. My repetitive sin slowly calcifies the valves and arteries of my heart, turning them to stone.

I can try to fix it. Oh, we humans are so creative! We can ignore our sin. We can cut our hearts out and lock them in a box where no one can hurt them. We can seek healing from parents, lovers, and friends. We can medicate with drugs, alcohol, sex, money. We can implant beautiful-looking devices: an extra evening church service, another Bible study, or praying 7 times a day. My goodness, the list is as long as human history.

But God designed the only remedy for the broken heart. And unlike a medical transplant, this healing is perfect. Not painless, but perfect (a topic for another entry).
Here is what has become my favorite passage:

I will give you a NEW HEART and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. You will live in the land I gave your forefathers; you will be my people, and I will be your God.
– Ezekiel 36:26-28 (emphasis mine)

God is in the business of heart transplants! (In a bit of irony, here we have a God who thinks he’s a cardiac surgeon!)

A NEW HEART! Look at that! Not just some petty medicine or a temporary device to help the old heart limp along. It’s a brand-new, perfectly beating, God-designed heart! And unlike the physically transplanted heart, this one won’t wear out and die. We have a new lease on life: eternal. life.

Lord, I thank you for this new heart that beats and bleeds and loves.  You are so good.

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