In this season of sacrifice and light, I appreciate the many keen insights sent to me by readers of The Organ Thieves. I’m especially struck by your continued calls for honoring Bruce Tucker’s contributions to medical science as well as the sacrifices made by his family to this day.
I’m also grateful to Sandy Hausman, the award-winning correspondent for Virginia Public Media, for her recent report on Radio IQ/WVTF. Here’s an excerpt:
“The medical college, now known as VCU Health, has quietly expressed regret over the controversy surrounding the lack of consent from Bruce Tucker’s family before his heart was donated to an ailing white businessman who died a few days later. In a university magazine, VCU says the story ‘underscores the need to listen to and accept criticism and to learn from our past as we work to honor the dignity of all whom we serve.’
“But Chip Jones wonders if that's enough – especially in light of another discovery.
"In 1994, a huge construction project on the campus ground to a halt when construction workers were horrified to see human arms sticking out of the mud," he recalls. "Police called the university archaeology department, and they began to find bodies that were in a nearby well that had been dumped some time in the past. The remains were likely those of slaves or poor black residents of Richmond whose bodies were stolen from graves so medical students could dissect and study them.”
“The Organ Thieves has won considerable attention from news organizations nationwide as America grapples with questions of systemic racism.
“‘I love a quote from Richard Rohr, the theologian,’” [says Jones]. ‘You cannot heal what you do not acknowledge.’ I think there [are] still a lot of unacknowledged wounds that need to be healed.’"
“The book includes a teaching guide, and Jones hopes it can be used in high schools to explore issues of race and healing with the next generation.”
As we enter the holidays, I hope everyone’s staying safe and healthy! Some readers have asked about getting an audio version of The Organ Thieves, so here’s a link to purchasing it and hearing a sample by the gifted reader JD Jackson.
The Organ Thieves has received a major endorsement in the December issue of Scientific American. The review by editor Andrea Gawrylewski begins by noting America’s poor track record when it comes to providing equitable health care for Black Americans.
“The roots of this inequity are firmly rooted in racism, not race, writer Jones shows in this gripping book,” she writes.
Interest continues to spread across various media outlets, which you can see here at Media/Clips. These include a live stream interview on “Between the Covers” with Ann Bocock of South Florida PBS (the segment is slated for broadcast in early 2021, with possible national PBS broadcast).
You can also hear a fine interview by Julie Rose on “Top of Mind” on BYU Radio. And Brian Ellis, an MFA student at Hollins University, just interviewed me for the university’s Jackson Center for Creative Writing. Click here!
Readers continue to amaze and educate me about their own experiences. With his approval, I’m sharing one man’s poignant recollection about growing up in a Black family in rural Virginia in the 1950s. Reading The Organ Thieves brought back memories of his parents quietly discussing the treatment of African Americans in Virginia.
“We were always told to go outside or leave the room when they talked about things like that,” he wrote me. “What I remember them discussing was that there were some experiments relating to body parts and cadavers at MCV.”
In the 1950s, he noted, “Blacks were encouraged to use the Black hospital, Richmond Community. We lived in the town of Bowling Green that had a Black doctor who used Richmond Community. As I remember, he also referred patients to the Fredericksburg hospital as well as Howard University’s Freedmen’s Hospital.”
His father often traveled on business in and around Bowling Green, the county seat of Caroline County, 42 miles north of Richmond.
“He occasionally mentioned that he had been told of grave robbers. Since I was young, it did not particularly interest me. I thought the robbers were after valuables, such as bracelets, rings, and gold. Not bodies!”
Thanks to everyone for your thought provoking, inspiring, and engaging remarks about The Organ Thieves. As readers contact me from across the U.S. and abroad, I hope to share some of them. So far, you’ve addressed a number of intriguing topics – from the treatment of Black patients at the old Medical College of Virginia in the 1960s to the systemic racism of early American medical education. Many of you have said the book has helped expand your historical horizons during this year of national reckoning.
Feel free to send me more thoughts about how the book has affected you, and, if possible, let me know if you’re OK with me sharing them on this blog (including whether or not you’d like your name to be used). Meanwhile, I’ll keep you posted on other book-related developments, including ways to honor the memory of Bruce Tucker and his descendants.
In this first round of reflections, we start with two retired doctors who studied at MCV in the 1960s-1970s. Both vividly recall their time with the two star surgeons profiled in the book, Dr. David Hume and Dr. Richard Lower.
“I was an ob-gyn resident at MCV in 1971,” wrote Dr. Bruce Bernie of Charleston, South Carolina, “and started med school at MCV in 1968. Your book was phenomenal and brought back rather bittersweet memories of my training.”
Dr. Bernie noted Hume’s “high intensity” personality (along with some other choice words). Still, he found him to be a “great teacher.”
Overall, though, he said, “My experience at MCV was an environment of anti-Semitism, homophobia, and outright racial prejudice.”
He called “part of the training at [former segregated, all-Black] St. Philip Hospital “unbelievably primitive and dehumanizing.” Looking back, he wrote, “Now I am sorry that I was not more proactive” about speaking out about what he saw.
“Thank you so much for writing this book,” Bernie wrote. “It has taken 50 years for me to finally face the real systemic racism at that time.”
Dr. Bill Crouch, a retired cardio-thoracic surgeon from Colorado Springs, Colorado, offered a different perspective.
“Recently read and enjoyed Organ Thieves,” he wrote. “I, along with 5 of my peers, were surgical residents at MCV during this time. Have communicated with each of them about the book, all either read or reading now.”
Crouch reported that he was initially put off by what he called the “incrimination of Hume & Lower, two of our ‘heroes’ at MCV. As I got deeper into the book I was so impressed by the research and assimilation of information about this time, even without trial documents.”
Speaking of his peers, he continued, “Your book has given us the opportunity to re-connect after many years and to reminisce about life as poor, overworked surgical residents. We all feel that although we had miserable hours, we probably had as much fun at MCV as in any of our subsequent practices. There was a wonderful esprit there among the surgical house staff to a great extent from the charisma of Drs. Hume and Lower. “
“I think the only facet we disagree on is the discrimination of blacks at MCV during the ’60s. We all felt indigent patients got as good, if not better care, than private patients. We, as house staff, cared for them diligently around the clock.”
Regarding the book’s assertions about the hospital’s anemic attempts to contact the family of Bruce Tucker before removing his heart and kidneys without any prior consent, Crouch said he and his peers “felt attempts at notification of Bruce Tucker’s family were all that could be done… The urgency of time applied to this decision.”
A major West Coast bookseller -- Powell’s City of Books in Portland, Oregon – has The Organ Thieves on its holiday “What I’m Giving” list.
“Since nothing says ‘I know you’ more than a carefully selected book,” the nationally known merchant explains, “we're sharing the top 22 books we're giving to our friends and family this holiday season.” Powell’s, which calls itself “The World’s Largest Independent Bookstore,” provides witty takes on each gift. Here’s the entry for The Organ Thieves:
To: “My med student cousin, who got the whole family to read The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.”
From: “Your proud, ethics-board-obsessed cousin.”
Powell’s City of Books offers other suggestions for your reading or gift-giving needs.
From Oregon we move to Texas, where The North Dallas Gazette recently opined, “Though this is a nonfiction book, fans of medical thrillers will devour it. Readers who love true medicine stories, history, and courtroom drama will love it, too…”
Lastly, check out this incisive interview on Radio Health Journal, which noted “how incidents such as this help to explain ongoing African-American distrust of medicine.”
The Washington Post had an excellent review in its Sept. 26 “Health and Science” section. Though The Organ Thieves “was written before the disparities of covid-19 and George Floyd’s death,” Erin Blakemore writes, “the abuses it records are decades old.” She also said that “the gruesome disregard for Black lives it documents makes it an urgently modern warning.”
Click here for my recent essay in the History News Network, an online publication of The George Washington University’s Columbian College of Arts & Science.
Finally, here's an insightful letter to the editor in the October 10 Richmond Times-Dispatch, “VCU should honor Tucker for role in medical history.” Reader Robert Morrison of Midlothian, Virginia urges the university to embrace Bruce Tucker in its ongoing efforts to apologize for past wrongs and to correct mistakes in its official narrative.
In their recent op-ed, University of Richmond School of Arts & Sciences Dean Patrice D. Rankine and anthropology professor Rania Kassab Sweis speak of 'universal sacrifice,' the need for yet unproven, sometimes harmful clinical medical trials. Participants 'have often come from Black and/or underserved communities, and their bodies have been used in the name of science, sometimes without their full and informed consent,' say the authors.
Lack of informed consent happened at now-VCU Medical Center, according to Chip Jones in his recently published book 'The Organ Thieves: The Shocking Story of the First Heart Transplant in America's Segregated South.' For the transplant, neither Black 'donor' Bruce Tucker nor his family gave consent. In his well-researched history, Jones’ page-turner chronicles the wrongful death and negligence suit against then-Medical College of Virginia (MCV), lost in large part on a controversial change of heart in a crucial judicial ruling.
Jones also explores MCV’s complicity in earlier 20th-century grave robbing, mostly of Black bodies, for cadavers for medical research, and of a 1990s hasty decision to stop archaeological research and cover up an old cadaver 'bone pit.' Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) has turned the page on many of its former practices that suggested Black lives didn't matter, and a VCU-formed descendant community group has begun advocating for studying and memorializing of exploited people, 'to restore and bring them the dignity they deserve,' writes Jones. But 'to date, no one has reached out to Bruce Tucker’s descendants.'
Moving forward in racial reconciliation, trust is crucial. With Virginia’s long history of race-based privilege and discrimination, building trust requires no stone left unturned in honestly facing and publicly acknowledging regretted history. VCU should reach out to the Tuckers. It should honor Bruce Tucker, who helped make medical history. We should expect it."
I look forward to seeing more letters from insightful readers like Robert Morrison. Stay tuned for more reader comments about the book along with breaking news about The Organ Thieves! Autographed copies are still available from Chop Suey Books in Richmond.
Award-winning actor J.D. Jackson provides a moving narration of The Organ Thieves on Audible. Click here for a free sample or to place an order.
Jackson’s impressive audiobook credits include Stride Toward Freedom by Martin Luther King Jr., The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead, and Forever Free by historian Eric Foner.
Great commentary, reviews and interviews keep rolling in, including a column by Michael Paul Williams of the Richmond Times-Dispatch. “Black lives won’t truly matter until this nation has a change of heart,” he writes of The Organ Thieves.
Another recent addition is an interview by NPR veteran Julie Rose on her “Top of Mind” podcast and national broadcast from Brigham Young University.
Richmond magazine’s September issue featured the book in “The Color of Medicine.”
Autographed copies are still available at Chop Suey Books in Richmond. More news coming!
Thanks to friends, readers and supporters like you, The Organ Thieves keeps garnering rave reviews and media attention around the country and even over to Ireland!
I invite you to sample the rich and varied coverage, including ‘The Sit Down” with D.J. Sixsmith, host of the nationally syndicated talk show on CBS.
Signed copies of The Organ Thieves are available at Chop Suey Books in Richmond. Just give them a call at 804-422-8066 or send an email.
Thanks to Tom England for sending this photo from Midtown Scholar Bookstore in Lancaster, Pa. Keep those e-cards and letters coming!
Thanks SO MUCH to everyone who came out last week safely masked and distanced at our sidewalk launch party at Chop Suey Books in Richmond!
It was heartening to hear so much interest and support for The Organ Thieves from schoolchildren, undergraduates, medical students, physicians and other health care providers, along with so many good friends and neighbors.
A special thanks to those of you who traveled far to offer your congratulations. It was especially touching to chat with children who joined their parents to learn more about the untold story of Bruce Tucker.
Check out recent national media coverage, including my essay in TIME.
Signed copies are still available from Chop Suey at 804-422-8066 or by email. The Organ Thieves is also sold by the usual online vendors.
Thanks again and I’ll keep you posted about any more news about the book!
Chip Invites You to an Informative Livestream Chat about Race, Unequal Health Care and Social Justice
Please join me on Instagram Live to discuss systemic racism then and now in American health care. We’ll be talking with a nationally-known expert, Dr. Shawn Utsey, a psychology professor and interim chair of African American Studies at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond.
Dr. Utsey and I will start at 2 p.m. Sunday, August 16 on this livesteam event sponsored by CHOP SUEY BOOKS.
Your posted comments will help guide our conversation. Not an Instagrammer? No worries! Just download the app (App Store | Google Play), then follow CHOP SUEY BOOKS. Before we begin, watch the stories bar (top of the screen) for an icon saying “Chop Suey is LIVE!”
And remember it’s not too late to get a discounted price on pre-orders of The Organ Thieves before my only local book signing August 18. Even if you can’t come by, you CAN preorder for me to CUSTOM SIGN your book for later pickup or mailing.
Hi Everyone & Welcome to my book & author website! I hope you enjoy learning more about The Organ Thieves and the back story of how I came to write it. Check out early rave reviews and comments from amazing authors and leaders from across the U.S.! And a special bonus for anyone who wants a personally signed copy — here’s a SAVE the DATE for publication day in Richmond, Virginia. I look forward to seeing you there – outside, safely masked and behind a plastic shield for everyone’s safety. Stay well and safe – and please know I sincerely appreciate your interest and support!
When Tuesday, August 18 4-6 p.m.
Where CHOP SUEY BOOKS 2913 W. Cary St. Richmond, VA 23221
What Chip Jones' OUTDOOR book signing with proper distancing and health procedures.
Pre-order The Organ Thieves at a special sale price, now!
This is BEST DEAL and a great way to keep business local to RVA!
For more information firstname.lastname@example.org or (804) 422-8066.