Marinated, but not totally useless

2007-12-15 00:00

No doubt you are all familiar with the concept of xenotransplantation. It means the transplanting of live organs from different species. Some time ago there was quite a lot of excitement in medical circles when attempts were made to transplant baboon livers into suffering humans whose original livers had cracked up, usually from too much dop. Dop, as your friendly GP will tell you if given half a chance, is very bad for the liver and given enough time and more than enough dop, will utterly destroy it.

Getting spares is very difficult, since the donor has to die. Usually this is done in advance, except in the terrifying circumstances of China where those criminals who merit the death sentence — and there are hundreds of them every year — have all their organs harvested for retail distribution. If rumours are to be believed, these can be booked. Phone now and don’t forget to have your credit card details handy.

But what happens, I hear you ask, when a baboon’s liver cracks up, probably from too much fermented marula juice, or maybe the intriguing psychohallucinogenic consequences of one scorpion too many?

Well, what do you know? Thanks to my mole at a large primate research facility not a million kilometres away from Johannesburg General Hospital, a badly damaged, but not totally stuffed, human liver became available. Only one little-old-lady owner, never been off the tar, except for a couple of years in Botswana. Yes, you guessed it! It’s Manto Tshabalala-Msimang’s retreaded liver, recently ungraded to a brand new one.

Well, you can understand the excitement in the primate research facility when this came on to the market.

Beating off a gaggle of traditional healers who wanted the thing for muti, the head honcho at the monkey house got the used liver and, since it was needed for science, he got it for free. Slipping this into a baboon was done in a trice and given the exceptional vigour of the new owner, he and his human liver were up and about in no time.

For a couple of weeks everything was fine. Well, relatively fine. The baboon with the new liver soon began to assert himself with such vigour that the entire pecking order of the monkey house underwent a total revolution.

Lesser baboons were sent on food foraging expeditions since the new “main ou” had special and very sophisticated needs. A couple of vervets, humble folk in modest grey suits with black gloves, found themselves co-opted into running a still in an old paraffin tin using pre-owned banana skins as the fermenting agent. The baboon, totally ignoring the vet’s polite health warning, usually drank the lot, straight from the tin.

Then one day, to the astonishment of all who heard it, the baboon began speaking Russian. A white slave trafficker in a gated community nearby provided one of his Eastern European lap dancers as a translator and, fuelled by a grant from the National Research Foundation, soon had a programme up and running. The first translations were all about the leadership, whatever that may mean.

Sadly some policemen in dark sunglasses arrived and the rest, as they say, is under embargo.

Stay tuned.

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