WASEEFAKHTA | DREAMSTIME
In 2009, Apple Computer CEO Steven Jobs received a life-saving liver transplant at Methodist Hospital in Memphis. In 2015, the Methodist University Hospital Transplant Institute received a $40 million donation. Was there a connection?
“It’s anonymous,” said Dr. James Eason, director of the transplant institute, when I asked him about the donation for this column. He declined to explain why. That’s been the official line since Eason and Methodist LeBonheur Healthcare CEO Gary Shorb made the announcement last November.
This, apparently, is the donor’s wish. The $40 million is a big gift, an unprecedented one in fact, even for a hospital with $1.67 billion in revenue in its most recent IRS filing. For comparison, a recent (and widely reported) donation to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital by Ellen DeGeneres was for $200,000, the amount of a humanitarian award given to her by Walgreens.
To recap, in April of 2009, a gravely ill Jobs flew to Memphis on his jet and, hours later, underwent a liver transplant operation performed by Dr. Eason. After the operation, Jobs and his wife Laurene stayed in Memphis while he recovered, living inconspicuously in a house on Morningside Drive in Midtown near Overton Park that was secured by his lawyer, former Memphian George Riley. If their neighbors knew this, they kept discreetly quiet and protective about it. After Mr. and Mrs. Jobs moved back to California that year, the house was purchased by Eason, who moved into it.
That much is in the public record, although it was several months after Jobs had returned to California before Eason and a few Memphians in the know acknowledged it.
Jobs went back to work and lived long enough to introduce the iPad. Apple’s stock price, which had been in a slump, rallied nearly 400 percent by the time he died in 2011. Saving Steven Jobs, like saving Private Ryan in the 1998 movie, was an epic story.
And still incompletely told, although Jobs has become a cult figure of Elvis magnitude.
Two movies about him, one released in 2013 and the other in 2015, don’t go into the Memphis story. Reviewing the 2015 movie, A. O. Scott of The New York Times wrote, “Jobs remains a mystery to those who know him best, and a brilliant, steely-eyed enigma at the center of the new movie that bears his name.”
Walter Isaacson’s authorized biography, Steve Jobs, was published in 2011 at about the time Jobs died. It added details about the organ donor (a car-accident victim in his mid-20s), the nurses from Mississippi who cared for Jobs (unawed, the way he liked it), and a secret visit to Sun Studio (the tour guide got a job offer from Jobs).
In the 2015 biography Becoming Steve Jobs, authors Brent Schlender and Rick Tetzeli reference “the unusual circumstances surrounding the liver transplant” in a footnote, but give only two paragraphs to Jobs’ stay in Memphis in their 412-page book.
“Because of complications he required a second surgery a couple of days later,” they write. “He and Laurene remained in Memphis for two excruciating months, during which things were so touch-and-go that relatives and close friends came to visit and perhaps say goodbye to him.”
Eason has been reticent. I interviewed him and wrote about him a couple of times as a columnist for the Memphis Flyer. In 2013 he was fretful about a dispute between rival transplant organizations in Tennessee and an organ-sharing agreement that seemed to benefit Vanderbilt University Hospital in Nashville at the expense of Methodist and Memphis becoming a talent and transplant magnet.
“I have been approached by other programs,” he told me. “I am a native West Tennessean, but I also have to look at every option and opportunity where I can do the most good.”
It looks like he and his staff will be staying in Memphis a while, with more resources to save more lives. Thanks to an anonymous angel.