Author Peter Rizzolo will be reading from his new novel “Forbidden Harvest” today at the Bull’s Head Bookshop.
Rizzolo spoke with staff writer Rebecca Pollack about the importance of donating organs and his inspiration for the book.
Daily Tar Heel: Can you give me a little summary of “Forbidden Harvest?”
Peter Rizzolo: It’s a book about a 13-year-old boy, who has a heart attack, and then a year later his heart is failing, and he needs a new heart.
It’s all a part of the struggles that they go through looking for the donor organ for their child.
It’s also about a pathologist who happens to be the boy’s godfather who works at a children’s hospital in Seattle — a children’s memorial hospital — and he’s a researcher in preservation of harvested organs.
Everyday at autopsies he’s holding in his hands organs that could save lives that he has to discard. Finally he decides to take the matter into his own hands and starts removing organs without the hospital’s knowledge or parental consent.
DTH: What prompted you to write this book?
PR: I’m a family doctor, and I grew up in north New Jersey, right in the middle of the city, and when I was six years old, we moved to a six-family house. On the first floor was a Jewish delicatessen, and they had a son who was a year older than me, and we became very close buddies.
I did notice he started getting winded and tired very easily, and after a couple of years, he told me that he had some kind of kidney problem.
When he was 14 years old, his mother called my mother and said that he wanted to see me in the hospital. I went to see him, and he was actually dying. It was very traumatic for me; he was like a brother, even closer.
It really saddened me to think that it could’ve saved his life, so years later when I was practicing medicine and decided I wanted to be a writer as well as a doctor, this incident came back to me, and I thought I wanted to write about the plight of children who needed an organ.
DTH: How do you hope this novel will affect the way people look at organ donating?
PR: You need somebody with severe head trauma or a drowning or on life support and are pronounced brain dead, and that happens about 12,000 times on average every year.
In the cases that it happens, only about 50 percent of families decide to be organ donors, which comes to about 6,000 donors, and that counts for 70 percent of organ transplant surgeries. If all 12,000 people agreed to organ donation we wouldn’t have the huge waiting list, and 6,000 to 7,000 people wouldn’t be dying a year because they couldn’t get an organ.
DTH: Why should people read this book?
PR: For one thing, it’s entertaining. Most people who have read it — the feedback is they couldn’t put it down, so that’s good. We read for entertainment, and also we have to learn something.
DTH: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
PR: I just don’t want you to buy my book, I want you to read it and then tell your friends how much you liked it.
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