In some respects The Donors is about what happens when people who can no longer live in their own skins try on a new identity. But in the story there is another trade-off: the ‘normal’ man, an obscure Manhattan pathologist, gets to see what it’s like to become a man of wealth and power while the beautiful actress upon changing looks and identities finds out what it’s like to be a ‘normal’ woman whose power to attract paparazzi has vanished. It’s a reversal of the usual state of affairs.
But what of the real world? In the United States, plastic surgeons can be the heroes of a TV show (think ‘Nip/Tuck’), but in Brazil they can become heroes of an entire nation. Arguably, there’s no plastic surgeon in the world who has achieved as much fame as Rio de Janiero’s Dr. Ivo Pitanguy. In 1999, a Carnival parade in Rio was staged in homage to him. The doctor took the lead trailed by skimpily dressed samba dancers. A singer praised him for “awakening the self-esteem in each ego” with a “scalpel guided by heaven.” It’s hard to imagine a more spectacular promotional campaign for a surgeon’s services. For Pitanguy, plastic surgery is an equal opportunity for rejuvenation and transformation – it’s for everybody. “The poor have the right to be beautiful, too,” he has said.
The possibility that someone could acquire a new face, however, a fantasy when The Donors came out in the early Eighties, became a reality nearly twenty years later. In 2005, a 38-year-old French woman who’d been mauled by a dog received the first partial face transplant -- the nose, lips and chin of a donor. Several more facial transplants --- partial and full -- have been performed in the years since, including on a woman disfigured by her husband who doused her with lye and a woman mauled by a monkey. In that case, the donor’s daughter said that when she regarded her mother’s face on another woman, she felt “overjoyed” to be able to see her mother’s skin and freckles again. In 2012, a surgical team at the University of Maryland grafted a new face (plus new upper and lower jaws, new teeth and most of the donor's tongue) on a man who’d become a recluse after a gunshot accident destroyed his face at the age of 18. “When we look at the donor and we look at the recipient, obviously it's a blend of two individuals," said his surgeon Eduardo Rodriguez. But is it really?
(With Harvey Gerhard, MD)
“How extraordinary life without the past is Dangerous but without penitence and memories…”
Lives are being traded and identities bought and sold, a sinister traffic that would otherwise go undetected if it weren’t for a car accident that takes the life of Maia Stevens, a famous actress who turns out to be not to be Maia at all. For that matter, she isn’t even a woman but rather a transsexual. The stunning discovery is made by Michael Reiss, a pathologist conducting the autopsy. But if the victim isn’t Maia then who is – and where is she? How long has it been since Maia – the real Maia – appeared in public? Reiss is warned not to publish his sensational findings by a doctor representing the Center for Rehabilitative Medicine, an institution which is actually a front for an organization called the Crown of Thorns. If he complies he will be allowed to find out what happened to the many celebrities, dictators and Mafiosi who have paid for others to do their dying for them so that they can go on to live a comfortable life with a new face and a new identity. In time Michael will meet the real Maia but not before he, too, becomes someone else.
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