Damon Weber's proud father, Doron, has written a searing memoir that enfolds a story of parental love and loss into a medical exposé. By the time Damon turned four, he had two open-heart surgeries to correct a congenital malformation that affected circulation to his lungs. His parents were led to believe that after the surgeries, their effervescent, sociable, academically and artistically talented son was set for life. However, as Damon turned 12, they became concerned about what his father calls "his unsprung height," his shortness of breath, and a strange protrusion in his abdomen (40). Returning to his attending physician, they were surprised that she withheld information from them about a condition known as PLE (protein-losing entropy), which can manifest months or years after the kind of surgery (Fontan) their son underwent. PLE enlarges the liver and allows proteins to leak from the intestines. Without adequate protein, Damon's body could not grow. His father worried that they might have passed the established window of opportunity to treat the complication.

The memoir, which reads like an extended eulogy to a beloved son, fuses scenes of family life with difficult medical decisions aimed at reversing the effects of PLE. However, none of the interventions succeed, leaving a heart transplant as Damon's last hope. As Weber recounts each decision leading to the transplant, he exposes flaws in the way hospital systems operate, in the way families are treated, and in the care provided by the medical team that lobbied to perform the transplant. Damon died after his transplant physician made herself scarce after misdiagnosing a post-operative complication, and an inattentive hospital staff ignored his parents' justifiable alerts to ominous symptoms. Scenes of the hospital staff waiting impatiently at the door to Damon's room to remove the machines sustaining and monitoring him, as his distraught parents say good-bye, are disturbing. When the Webers initiate a lawsuit, the transplant physician cannot locate Damon's medical records. The narrative fully absorbs Weber's sorrow and anger.


Readers interested in a medical memoir that exposes the precarious investments that physicians, patients, and their families make in complicated contemporary medical technologies-albeit for different reasons-will appreciate Immortal Bird. It draws us into the harrowing dilemmas patients and their families experience when enticed with the possibility of easing chronic symptoms or extending life, despite great risks. At the same time, medicine, Weber reminds us, is a business, and transplants are profitable. We cannot know whether Damon's condition condemned him from the start. But Weber leaves no doubt that physicians and hospitals should have made the family's encounters with medicine more transparent, compassionate, and ethical.

Doron Weber also draws a spirited portrait of his son, whose curiosity and vitality led him through both the ordinary complications of being a teenager and the extraordinary intimations of his mortality.


Simon & Schuster

Place Published

New York


hard cover 2012

Page Count