Amy Silverstein, who wrote a life with three hearts, dies at the age of 59
Amy Silverstein, a celebrated writer whose two memoirs, including 2007’s “Sick Girl,” recount her grueling but joyful odyssey through a life that required two heart transplants, died on May 5. She was 59.
Her husband, Scott Silverstein, confirmed her death but did not say where she died. The cause was cancer, which Ms. Silverstein had attributed to decades of post-transplant medication. She lived in Chappaqua, NY
Her death was predicted — by Mrs. Silverstein herself — in an opinion essay published in The New York Times on April 18.
“Today I will explain to my healthy transplanted heart why, in what may be a matter of days or weeks at best, they – well, we – will die,” Ms Silverstein wrote. She recounted these thoughts, which arose one day during her regular, vigorous jog, and continued, “I run my hand across my chest and speak aloud, palm to the fresh beat of my heart. “I’m so sorry, sweet girl.” She’s not used to hearing me this way, outside my head, outside the body we share.
At that time, the details of her life with successive hearts that were not her own (both happened to be from 13-year-old girls) were known to legions of admirers through her many magazine articles and TV appearances, as well as her two books, including ‘My Glory Was I Had Such Friends’ from 2017.
Each transplant—the first was in 1988, when she was 24 and a sophomore law student at New York University—gave her new life, as Ms. Silverstein often recounted with deep gratitude. But in no way was her life back to what it was.
“People don’t recognize it’s hard because I’m not lugging an oxygen tank, and it seems to be going well,” she said in a 2007 interview with Marie Claire magazine. “I lead a bit of a disguised life. When I get up from the table after a long dinner with friends, they just walk to the door. I walk and my heart says, “What are you doing?” Most people assume that when you stand, your heart immediately starts to race. Not mine and I get a feeling of ‘wrong’ in my body every time.”
Amy Jill Shorin was born in Queens on June 3, 1963, the younger of two daughters of Arthur T. Shorin, who was CEO of the sports card and collectibles company Topps, and Arlene (Fein) Shorin. Amy, whose parents later divorced, grew up in Great Neck, NY, on Long Island.
A member of the Phi Beta Kappa Honor Society, she graduated from New York University in 1985 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism before deciding to pursue a career as a lawyer.
In her freshman year of law school, she developed mysterious symptoms, including chest tightness, digestive problems, and fainting. She wrote in “Sick Girl” that she would “wonder how many other young women had ever stared into a toilet bowl full of their own blood-stained vomit, washed it down, and raced off to a two-hour constitutional law seminar.” ”
A year later, she was diagnosed with congestive heart failure. “The heaviness in my chest turned out not to be due to poor digestion, as I thought, but rather to a massively enlarged heart that literally burst out of me,” she wrote.
As her condition worsened, Ms. Silverstein topped the waiting list for a donor heart, which she received at Columbia-Presbyterian Hospital in New York. It wasn’t until she recovered from the surgery that she began to learn the price of coronary rescue.
“With the drugs she was taking and the repeated infections, she felt bad pretty much every day at one point,” Mr. Silverstein said in a telephone interview. The powerful drugs used to prevent her immune system from rejecting the donor heart as a foreign object had numerous side effects, he said, adding, “She routinely carried a bag with her in case she vomited.”
Ms Silverstein underwent treatments for repeated infections, multiple rounds of skin cancer and a variety of other conditions related to a weakened immune system, her husband said. The couple found themselves settling for endless waits at the New York City hospital emergency room to resolve one complication or the other on a monthly basis.
To check for signs of rejection, she had to have regular heart biopsies, where doctors “put a catheter through your blood vessels and take out bits of your heart,” Mr. Silverstein said. “She had over 90.”
After “Sick Girl” was published, Ms. Silverstein received stacks of fan letters from other transplant recipients, praising her for her courage in exposing the strange mix of joy and misery that can come with living with a new organ – what they call the “gratitude paradox.”
She also attracted hate mail as a vocal healthcare critic. “Organ transplantation is mired in stagnant science and outdated, imprecise medicine that fails patients and organ donors,” she wrote in her recent Times essay, adding that the daily use of transplant drugs over years or decades has led to numerous other life-threatening conditions, including diabetes, uncontrollable high blood pressure, kidney damage and cancer.
Despite that destabilizing regime, Mrs. Silverstein continued to live a vigorous life. After her first transplant, she returned to complete law school, then practiced briefly before giving up the profession to raise a son, Casey, and eventually write.
In the midst of a life of careful discipline, including regular and intense exercise and following a strict diet, avoiding even the tiniest pat of butter or a sip of alcohol, she took up the guitar and writing songs. Once, in the late 1990s, she performed as a solo act at Bottom Line nightclub in Greenwich Village.
In addition to her husband, Mrs. Silverstein is survived by her son, her father, and stepmother, Beverly Shorin. Her sister Jodie Hirsch died in 2020.
When her first donor heart succumbed to vasculopathy — vascular lesions that can be caused by some drugs — she underwent a second transplant in Los Angeles in 2014. Friends across the country kept a spreadsheet to schedule their visits sequentially over the course of her nearly three-month hospital stay “so she never had to spend a night alone in the hospital,” her husband said.
That experience became the basis of “My Glory Was I Had Such Friends,” an adaptation currently in development as a limited series by Warner Bros. TV and Bad Robot, the media company owned by director and producer JJ Abrams and his wife, Katie McGrath, Mr. Silverstein said.
But in a way, none of her human relationships were as intimate as the one she had with the 200-gram or so bundle of someone else’s muscles throbbing under her ribcage.
“During our daily runs, when my 1970s hunt rock playlist propels each step,” she wrote in the Times essay, “this heart of a 13-year-old donor rebels in my body with throbbing of Oh puh lease — and we giggle together and pick up our pace to sprint.