When people read my book blurb, I love to watch their face for signs of disgust. Forehead skin that folds like an accordion. Wrinkled noses as if they walked through a fart cloud. I’m not offended, because illegal organ harvesting is pretty disgusting.
But it’s also a reality.
To be honest, I never thought much about it until I was six months pregnant with my son. I got a call that my husband had been rushed to the hospital after puking up blood. My first thought was that he had an ulcer, and I remember crossing every crossable appendage that I was wrong.
Stupid me. It turned out to be much worse.
Much, much worse.
A vein had burst in his stomach, and two more veins — one in his esophagus and another in his liver — were on the brink of erupting. Doctors had no idea what caused them to swell, or whether he would live. He spent days in the intensive care unit until finally the nurses pulled me into a special office — one with pretty pictures on the wall and pastel-colored paint to soothe distressed family members. They wanted to talk about putting him on an organ transplant list.
He was only 31.
We got lucky though. His gastric veins were banded and his health stabilized, but the fear stuck with me. What if he eventually needed a new liver? How long would we have to wait on the organ transplant list? Would he survive the surgery?
Worst of all, someone would have to die in order for him to live. And in some countries — even the United States — it’s not always through accident.
As we returned home from the hospital and settled back into our new, albeit more cautious life, a story idea emerged. I began writing Body Parts, a YA novel about a pharmaceutical company that uses a foster center as a front to harvest organs from unsuspecting kids. I know, I know, but body parts are a big business, and my fictional world is not too far off from reality.
Organ harvesting is a multi-million dollar operation because there simply aren’t enough donors to meet the demand of those needing kidneys, livers, hearts, and even corneas. I read somewhere that scientists believe that the rise of diabetes and other diseases globally has made the demand for healthy organs skyrocket, and it’s been reported that many Syrian refugees have gone under the knife recently, selling a kidney or a lung in order to provide their family with a safe passage to freedom. Egypt and Turkey have allegedly become hot spots for organ trafficking. Underground businesses promise refugees freedom in exchange for organs. They don’t care if someone gets an infection or can’t survive with only one functioning kidney.
And get this: some organ-harvesting operations don’t even wait until someone volunteers. In 2006, two Canadians recognized the rise in transplant operations in China and began investigating allegations of forced donations. Evidence has shown that hundreds of thousands of people who practice Falun Gong, an ancient spiritual discipline in the Buddhist tradition, have been murdered for their parts. Living people. Killed by the busloads. For their body parts.
Sadly, for every illegal organ-harvesting group that’s shut down, there are dozens more in the shadows. Waiting to prey on people who are desperate for money. For safety. For survival — even if it means risking alleyway surgery to survive.