Life With Sudden Death: A Tale of Moral Hazard and Medical Misadventure
The youngest of nine children, Michael Downing was three when his father died, suddenly and inexplicably. No autopsy was performed. The family diagnosis was God's will. As a boy, Downing rigorously trained as a spiritual athlete, preparing to vault into heaven. But eventually he escaped the religious dogma and the family arena--until one of his brothers died in 2003, suddenly and inexplicably. No autopsy was performed. Alarmed, Downing pursued a diagnosis. Drawn into a world of researchers, clinicians, and manufacturers with their own arcane ethics and faith, Downing discovered he had inherited a mutant protein from his father, and that the first symptom would be his sudden death. To save his life, a defibrillator was hardwired to his heart. Within weeks, he needed emergency surgery to remove the device and the life-threatening infection he got with it. Two months later, he was reimplanted--only to read in his morning newspaper that the new wires anchored to his heart were prone to failure. His device might be powerless, or it might deliver a series of unwarranted, possibly fatal, shocks. From a bedeviled boyhood in the Berkshires to a grim comedy of errors in one of Boston's best hospitals, Life with Sudden Death is a tale of medical misadventure.