The heart “From Divine Gift to Dust”
Illustrated by CAITLIN LINDSTROM-MILNE
The heart is the first organ to be created in mother’s womb. It brings instantant death if it stops. It is the life giver and life taker. But even before we knew all the science, the heart was considered precious to many ancient cultures and held many mythological meanings.
For The Aztecs, the heart was both the seat of the individual and a fragment of the Sun's heat where the Sun was perceived as a heart-soul. To ensure the favour of the sun god, Huitzilopochtli, Aztecs performed human sacrifices. A priest would rip out the heart of the victim and offer the still pounding heart to Huitzilopochtli. Heart-extraction was viewed as a means of liberating the Sun’s heat and reuniting it with the Sun.
Egyptians, on the otherhand, preserved the heart. They believed that the god Ptah conceived the world in his heart before creating it through his spoken words. To them, the heart was the core of an individual’s life, will, and intellect and hence it was the one internal organ left in the mummy so that it could be weighed against a feather, the symbol of Ma’at, god of justice, at Osiris’ judgment seat. The heart's actions are cannot be made heavy by misdeeds.
For these ancient cultures, the heart was the one part of the body that connected the mortals’ world to the immortals’ one. This divine and mythical perspectives of the heart as the life essence gave rise to the relationship between itself and love. As the majority of the nerves led to this solar plexus in the chest near the location of the heart, it was believed to be the mind. Therefore, all emotions, love as well, were associated with the heart. This made sense because the heart starts to beat very fast when one is emotionally overwhelmed as in the case of love. As the heart became the emotional seat of the human body, many love poems and stories were written about love being produced by the heart in our literature. The relationship between heart and love is eternal. Poetry shows the heart to be something more than a palpating muscle. It is a bird that can fly, expresses love. It can store thought and emotion and even break as though made of glass.
“Hear my soul speak. Of the very instant that I saw you, Did my heart fly at your service”
- The Tempest, Shakespeare
“The long Love, that in my thought doth harbor
And in mine heart doth keep his residence.”
-The Long love, that in my thought doth harbour, Thomas Wyatt
“When we two parted
In silence and tears,
Half broken- hearted
To sever for years,”
-When we two parted, Lord Byron
But has our heart have lost its importance today? Our knowledge makes us see only its anatomic function. It can be replaced by a mechanical heart. Though a mechanical heart is used to bridge the time to heart transplantation or to permanently replace the heart in case heart transplantation is impossible. The first successfully mechanical heart used to replace a real heart came 1982. The first two patients to receive these hearts, Barney Clark and William Schroeder, survived 112 and 620 days beyond their surgeries, respectively. The second utility hasn’t being performed yet, because the heart is conceptually a pump, it embodies subtleties that defy straightforward emulation with synthetic materials and power supplies. Consequences of these issues include severe foreign-body rejection and external batteries that limit patient mobility. However, Alain F. Carpentier, a French heart specialist, announced that a fully implantable artificial heart will be ready for alternative transplant in 2013. The prototype uses embedded electronic sensors and is made from chemically treated animal tissues, called "biomaterials", or a "pseudo-skin" of biosynthetic, micro porous materials.
But is it a heart? It is reduced to a muscular organ used to determine death. A person can be declared dead if he is brain death, even though his heart is still functioning. Brain death is the irreversible end of all brain activity due to total necrosis of the cerebral neurons following loss of brain oxygenation. There have been cases where patients were declared dead, because they were brain dead but recovered, as in the case of Steven Thorpe who awoke from 2-week coma despite four specialists declaring that the 17-year-old was brain dead.
The decrease in the heart’s value is amplified by today’s commercialisation of it. In valentine, the heart is omnipresent; on chocolate boxes and on decoration. So, from such a valuable object that is dedicated to a god it has become an object of marketing.
Finally, what will be its value in the future? In a hundred years will it be possible to erase all diseases related to the heart by repleacing it easyly and, thus, reduce the chances to have cardiovascular diseases, such as heart attack or plaque deposition? Only the future can answer it! But one thing will never change, the heart will always be the first organ to be created in a foetus and one will always love the next person with his/her heart.