Tuesday, February 10, 2009

A Heart by Any Other Name

What a week I had! After years of saving and scrimping, we are finally getting our rugs replaced with beautiful tile and laminate flooring. The house is torn up, workers are moving about from one area to another, barricades block “no step zones,” our van broke down, our son’s car blew its engine, the front door lock broke, and last night, my husband fell from the roof when the ladder gave way from under him. Oh, thank God he was not hurt—but the legs of the ladder came crashing through the kitchen window as I stood helplessly watching. The position of the ladder was such that each leg took out one side of the double-pane window. The new decking, composite, was slippery, and John was not aware how slippery it was.

I watched the glass shatter into millions of pieces, covering most of the kitchen counters and floor. Then I saw John dangling from the gutter with one hand and as he dropped to the deck below, my first thought was has he been hurt? Thankfully, he was unscathed. I was only a few feet from the window and at that proximity, anyone would have been scared enough to put their heart into a panic; racing hormones and nerves causing the blood to rush to their head.

But my heart went on its merry way, beating as if it was walking a familiar path through the neighborhood park. I did not have that “fight or flight” reaction people experience when faced with a startling and scary event. My heart—transplanted to me three and a half years ago—does not have the connection to my brain and nervous system that my “original” heart did. The heart beating in my chest was born to a young woman named Danielle, who passed away tragically at the age of 28. It is her heart that keeps me alive. It is her heart that now governs the esoterical position of the center of my being.

Many studies are investigating the role our heart plays in other areas besides its symbolically designated place as the “pump” that keeps us alive. And the research is opening many doors to understanding its expanded role and why the heart can break down so easily.

In fact, doctors are now reporting that unexpected, tragic news can cause an actual broken heart. The condition “broken heart syndrome” is being officially recognized by doctors the world over as reported by cardiologist Dr. Ilan Wittstein, M.D of The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine:

Shocking news, such as learning of the unexpected death of a loved one, has been known to cause catastrophic events, such as a heart attack.

Now, researchers at Johns Hopkins have discovered that sudden emotional stress can also result in severe but reversible heart muscle weakness that mimics a classic heart attack. Patients with this condition, called stress cardiomyopathy but known colloquially as “broken heart” syndrome, are often misdiagnosed with a massive heart attack when, indeed, they have suffered from a days-long surge in adrenalin (epinephrine) and other stress hormones that temporarily “stun” the heart.

After observing several cases of “broken heart” syndrome at Hopkins hospitals - most of them in middle-aged or elderly women—we realized that these patients had clinical features quite different from typical cases of heart attack, and that something very different was happening,” says Wittstein.
“These cases were, initially, difficult to explain because most of the patients were previously healthy and had few risk factors for heart disease.

While the folklore of “broken heart” syndrome has been around for decades, the prevalence of the condition remains unknown. According to Wittstein, some reports exist, mainly from Japan, and describe similar syndromes, but no biochemical analyses have previously been performed that link
the condition to elevated catecholamine levels. The researchers contend that while stress cardiomyopathy is not as common as a typical heart attack, it likely occurs more frequently than doctors realize. They expect its numbers to increase as more physicians learn to recognize the syndrome’s unique clinical features. [Ilan Wittstein, M.D. Hopkins cardiologist. Johns Hopkins Medicine, February 9, 2005 April 2008 http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/Press_releases/2005/02_10_05.html]

Understanding the heart physically, emotionally, and spiritually is the beginning of understanding what makes each one of us who we are. “Who has put wisdom in the mind? Or who has given understanding to the heart?” (Job 38:36, nkjv) If we can identify the origin of our own heartaches, we can begin to grasp what we need to overcome the individual trials breaking our own hearts.

The Lord already knows how infinitely important the heart’s place is in our lives. Its status and emotional state are mentioned more than 800 times in the Bible and is referred to as possessing many characteristics:
  • The heart can be evil: “The LORD saw how great man's wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time.” (Genesis 6:5 NIV)
  • The heart can guide you to give: “Tell the Israelites to bring me an offering. You are to receive the offering for me from each man whose heart prompts him to give.” (Exodus 25:2 NIV)
  • The heart can be hateful: “Do not hate your brother in your heart.” (Leviticus 19:17 NIV)
  • The heart can be proud: “Then your heart will become proud and you will forget the LORD your God.” (Deuteronomy 8:14 NIV)
  • The heart can fear: “When we heard of it, our hearts melted and everyone's courage failed.” (Joshua 2:11 NIV) “At this the hearts of the people melted and became like water.” (Joshua 7:5 NIV)
  • The heart rejoices: “My heart rejoices in the LORD;” (1 Samuel 2:1 NIV)
  • The heart can be faithful: “You have shown great kindness to your servant, my father David, because he was faithful to you and righteous and upright in heart.” (1 Kings 3:6 NIV)
  • The heart can have integrity: “As for you, if you walk before me in integrity of heart and uprightness, as David your father did.” (1 Kings 9:4 NIV)
  • The heart can be humbled: “Because your heart was responsive and you humbled yourself before the LORD.” (2 Kings 22:19 NIV)
  • The heart can be sorrowful: “How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart?” (Psalm 13:2 NIV)
  • The heart can be broken: “Scorn has broken my heart and has left me helpless;” (Psalm 69:20 NIV)
  • The heart is a wellspring of life: “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.” (Proverbs 4:23 NIV)
  • The heart can sing: “Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord.” (Ephesians 5:19 NIV)
  • The heart can be at rest: “This then is how we know that we belong to the truth, and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence.” (1 John 3:19 NIV)

Two years after receiving life from Danielle, I was able to meet her mom, Charlotte, and give her back a piece of the “princess” she lost. Charlotte talks of her daughter with a gleam in her eyes. As she put it, “I lost something very dear to me—my little princess.”

Although my “new heart” may not be attached as my previous heart was, I know it is operating as more than merely a pump. I even feel a connection to my heart donor no one can explain. Danielle was a Christian; I will meet her in heaven one day.

In Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, Juliet tells Romeo that a name is artificial and meaningless, and that she loves the person who is called “Montague,” not the Montague name and not the Montague family. Our hearts are similar—it’s not just the conventional meaning of a pump keeping us alive, it is the life it gives physically and spiritually when you trust Jesus to be its center.

“What's in a name? [in a heart?] That which we call a rose [heart] by any other name would smell as sweet [still beat with the love of Christ].”

Now, we are connected. Charlotte can listen to Danielle’s heart beating in my chest and I can embrace Danielle’s gift of life with every beat of her heart. A heart by any other name is always a heart of many characteristics. The one we value the most?—the heart of faith.

“But what does it say? ‘The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,’ that is, the word of faith we are proclaiming: That if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.” (Romans 10:8-10 NIV)

Visit me at: http://www.cindyscinto.com/


  1. Cindy: Great thoughts. Glad to hear you recovered! Keep writing, Sista!

  2. Wow! I think I won't complain about my week!

  3. Very insightful - the heart is so fragile. We all try to avoid heartache, though it seems that God often uses it to develop wisdom and compassion. Great scriptural referrences.