When Death Becomes Life: Lessons from a Transplant Surgeon with Dr. Joshua Mezrich

Dr. Joshua Mezrich is the author of When Death Becomes Life: Notes from a Transplant Surgeon, a book where he shares insights that he derived from his life as a surgeon. Joshua is a graduate of Princeton University and completed his Doctor of Medicine degree at Cornell University.  In addition to his profession as a transplant surgeon at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Joshua is the co-founder and inventor of MezLight, the sterile surgical headlamp that he conceptualized in his quest to find alternatives to wearing a headlight during surgical procedures.

Joshua joins me today to discuss the act of organ donation as a gift of life that can help families cope with death. He illustrates his beginnings as a doctor, from the first patient who died on his watch to meeting the family of an organ donor for the first time. He shares a brief history of surgery and transplanting and imparts his love of reading literature. He also underscores the value of empathy and humility not only in the medical field but also in life and the power of choosing to be kind.

“The ability to donate organs is a beautiful thing. It is a gift and legacy; a reminder of how you can help people, even in your final hours.” – Joshua Mezrich

This week on The School for Good Living Podcast:

  • A patient who died in Joshua’s care and how his values changed throughout his career
  • How stress can make it difficult to keep your humanity and sense of purpose
  • Missing a critical phone call and the importance of humility
  • A brief history of organ transplants
  • Why a pharmaceutical company wanted its executives to collect soil samples whenever they traveled
  • Why Joshua wrote When Death Becomes Life and how writing the book changed his life
  • The “driven beasts” and the incredible weight on the shoulders of pioneering surgeons
  • Why the way we think of death as a society matters
  • Forming the concept of brain death
  • Challenging the definition of brain death and the case of Jahi McMath
  • How organ donation has helped families cope with death and the first time Joshua met a donor family
  • The power of emotional awareness and mastery
  • What compelled Joshua to become a surgeon after majoring in Russian Language & Literature
  • How his practice as a surgeon transformed his awareness and appreciation of the spiritual
  • The first time Joshua performed a transplant and why surgeons need to be humble
  • Living donations, pair exchanges, and other innovations in organ transplantation
  • Choosing to be kind in a challenging world
  • What was it like to draft a manuscript worth 300,000 words
  • Why writers shouldn’t stop their writing session at the end of a chapter and other advice on writing a book

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