Oct/Nov 2014 Humor/Satire

Anonymous Letter from an Organ Trafficker

by Mardean Isaac

Out of all of the outlawed professions, mine is the most despised.

Drug dealers put relieved smiles on anxious faces. The lonely heroism of assassins is legend. Men either use whores or pretend their wife is one to get off.

But the mere mention of what I do provokes visceral repellence. I'm seen as embodying the creepiest kind of opportunism, as a profiteer of evil.

I'm writing to you today in the hope of salvaging our reputation. I am an organ trafficker, and this is my story.


My career began during the Yugoslav war. As you can imagine, the situation was dire. Across the Balkans, organs were in terrible condition and the need for transplants was urgent.

I was walking through a village in Bosanska Krajina when I came upon a bombed out church. The Croatian priest stood in the exposed nave, his head bowed in deep sadness. He told me the Serbs had made off with all the censers and chalices. The pipe organ was too much hassle to loot.

A slab had collapsed onto the pipes. The organ would never be played again. But the tremors from the shelling had unloosened the pedal that operated the organ's swell-box. The priest picked it up and pressed it into my hand.

"In Zagreb, there are three other churches built by the man who built this one. Go and see if they need a swell-box pedal. It's the only way this organ can live on."

I drove into Croatia the next day, the pedal stored under my foot in my shoe, and, to my delight, the swell-box pedal on the organ at the St. Francis of Assisi Church had developed a distracting creak and an ugly patina. My first transplant was made.


The sooner you harvest an organ after it stops working, the better its prospects post-transplant. But sometimes you have to harvest first and hope for a match later.

I once rescued some pipes from a dilapidated church in the Ukraine. The organ had atrophied, but one pipe hadn't yet oxidized. I stashed it in a cooler to help minimize the damage of severing it from its body and keep it from rusting.

But there were checkpoints at the border. I extracted the pipe from the cooler in the trunk and put it down my trouser leg.

When the Border Guard stopped me, my leg was extended and a crutch was nestled against my seat. I told him I had broken my ankle.

I spent a month masquerading as a tourist in Krakow, perusing churches and eyeing their organs for signs of damage.

Finally, I found a church with a distended pipe in its middle rank. It had developed cirrhosis due to excessive use of C major chords in services.

I attended Mass and spoke quietly afterwards to the pastor, who was intrigued by this new arrival to his congregation.

He greeted me at night in the car park. I gave him the cooler with the pipe in it and he slid me $50. This was much lower than the market rate: the natural state for organs is assembled, and restorers are paid handsomely to put them back together. In this case, the transplant and stitching was hard to spot, the new pipe being in the middle rank.

I stayed in Poland another week to attend Mass after the surgery, and it sounded beautiful.


A few years into my career, my name had spread. Churches and concert halls would contact me when they needed parts for operations, and I'd do my best to find a donor based on availability of parts and urgency of need.

The operation became slicker. I had built and seasoned a team that could move between countries swiftly, sharing knowledge of fruitful territories and warning of fallow ones. Storing organs was always a challenge. But this only increased our desire to be expedient in the hope of maximizing business and vitality alike.

Our reputation grew, and some pastors began to offer up their dying organs for parts. Their strength faded, and they could no longer produce the sounds they were capable of in their prime. These donors are typically from poorer areas and can't afford to pay for full restorations. We make sure to compensate them more than adequately and strive to find matches true to the spirit of their instruments.

One pastor in Venezuela had seen his congregation dwindle year after year. The collection plate was barely enough to keep his church running. He sold us every piece of his organ and told his flock it had been stolen.

Organs are like the people who play them: each one is unique, but they all share essential components. The trick is finding similarities to establish donor connections. This time, we were lucky to give life to twelve organs in twelve different countries with the rescued parts.


On some occasions, I must admit, we harvested living organs. These cases—please rest assured—involve very difficult moral calculations, and are only undertaken in rare circumstances, after strenuous consideration.

A few years ago, a church in Guatemala told us that vandals had made off with all the black keys on their console. They couldn't afford to have the organ restored properly, and the concert was in a week. It was Christmas. Theirs was the only church in town, and it had the only organ in Quetzaltenango.

The maker was based in Segovia but had since gone out of business. He had organs in three churches in the city.

We broke into one of them at night. As we made incisions in the keydesk and lifted the keys, one of my new guys got nervous. The flashlight slipped from his sweaty hand, landing on the manual. A whole octave resounded into the night. We worked in fear, but were swift enough to get the keys cleanly off before anyone caught us.

Christmas Mass was attended by thousands in Quetzaltenango. A generation of children heard Ave Maria for the first time.


Instead of looking at out-of-context images of dismembered organs or taking the horror stories at face value, I hope you now appreciate the human dimension of our profession. If you too would know the joy of taking the parts from one dying thing to bring life to another, you'd never look at us like criminals again.

Even now, the list of needy recipients is far longer than the list of donors. Being forced underground does nothing to help those in need of transplants. It makes life for us—we who are merely trying to make possible the flow of air, to restore and enhance respiration, to enable the current of life to animate as many of its carriers as possible—a constant danger. We always try to use organ surgeons of the highest caliber, but due to the illegality of our practice, amateurs and charlatans are, in certain parts of the world, the ones doing the operations. The outcome of botched underground operations can be—I hope I don't need to remind you—fatal.

We in the trade are confronted with this wicked paradox: the more bountiful the organ harvest, the greater the hurt behind it. But greater too the chance to heal. One organ's silence is another's music.


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