For Mother’s Day in 1996, before the surgery that bonded them even more profoundly than as parent and child, Spencer Bean wrote in a card to Sharon Bearor: “I love you Mom. Soon you will have given me life not once, but twice.”
Two months later, in an experimental procedure at Massachusetts General Hospital that had been tried only about 30 other times in the country, Sharon and her sister, Jean Bearor, each donated a lobe of their lungs. Over the course of eight hours, Dr. John Wain removed Mr. Bean’s lungs, marbled and purplish red from cystic fibrosis, and replaced them with pink, healthy lobes from his mother and aunt.
A living-donor double-lung transplant was so new that no one could venture odds for long-term survival. Mr. Bean was 20 that July day as he lay on the operating table, helping advance science as much as he hoped to extend his life. He was 38 when he died in Mass. General on April 14, several months after his body began to reject the transplanted lungs and complications set in.
During the more than 17 years that followed the surgery, however, “everything that he set out to do, he accomplished,” said his cousin, Becky McAleney of South Portland, Maine. Mr. Bean’s aspirations were extraordinarily ordinary: He wanted the regular life that cystic fibrosis had withheld. He finished college and partied with friends, he landed a job and fell in love, and he became a father. Always short of breath until that day in the operating room, he ever after relished the simple pleasure of taking stairs two at a time.
“He was so excited to have a second chance, and he did not shy away from expressing that ‘wow,’ ” his mother said. “In the same vein, he didn’t want to be different. He just felt he deserved that, and that life was now going to be his to live normally.”
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