DAYTON — Though spirituality was always an important aspect of her life, it took on even greater significance after her transplant.
Annette Jo Giarrante, who received a heart transplant on March 11, 2007, will share her personal story at the second annual Medical-Spirituality Conference: “Connections of the Heart.” The daylong event, open to the public, is slated for Thursday, April 15, at the Dayton Masonic Center and will focus on the spiritual and medical aspects of organ transplants.
Last year’s inaugural program featured author Rachel Naomi Remen and turned out to be a big hit.
“It truly was a community event which drew more than 500 participants including all types of health care professionals — physicians, nurses, chaplains, social workers — as well as counselors, ministers, teachers and students,” says Evangeline Andarsio, the Dayton physician who initiated the conference. Andarsio, who teaches the medical-spirituality course to medical students at Wright State University’s Boonshoft School of Medicine, will moderate the upcoming session as well.
This year she tapped Giarrante as keynote speaker.
“I came to know Jo through the Institute for Spiritual Leadership in Chicago during the late 1990s,” says Andarsio. “Her connection to the spiritual dimension of her medical experience offers a unique perspective on the healing process and is definitely a story that needs to be shared with health care professionals as well as with individuals contemplating organ donation or those who have had an experience with someone they know having an organ transplant.”
Giarrante, 57, is a Roman Catholic who spent 20 years as a Franciscan sister and eventually left religious life. She has been on the faculty of the Institute for Spiritual Leadership since 1992. After her transplant, she says, she began to explore the spiritual dimensions of her own medical experience, including the connections among mind, body and spirit.
“I think the transplant gave me a deeper and fuller sense of how God works in our lives and how other ministries such as doctors and nurses offer caring and loving support that I also felt was an experience of God.”
Since her transplant, she says, she has altered her priorities.
“I know I’ve cut back on work, I’m now working part-time. And I’m now a trainer for spiritual directors and a life coach.”
Her goal at the upcoming conference, she says, is to help participants understand the wisdom that the heart plays in our lives.
In her experience, she says, a lot of doctors are so committed to preserving life — that their focus is limited to the medical realm.
“I’ve come to believe that the heart has a deeper knowing and a deeper wisdom,” Giarrante says. “I’d advise doctors to be very intentional about listening, I think a doctor needs to understand the body, mind and soul connection of people they are dealing with, I think patients have hunches about what is going on in their bodies.” Sometimes, she says, a doctor will order a test or blood work that shows nothing, but the patient insists something is going on inside them — and that can help with a diagnosis.
Giarrante has published a deck of meditation cards entitled “Whispers From the Heart.”
“The reflections on these cards are just a few of my heart’s whispers that I have heard and pondered since the transplant,” she explains. “I believe these are my heart’s deepest knowings.”
The April 15 conference will also feature a panel discussion and a question-and-answer period. Panelists include Dr. Harry L. Anderson, nurse Ellen Blair, the Rev. Bill Phipps and pharmacist David Uddin.