8 June 2017



On June 8, 2017, at San Lorenzo Mercato in Palermo, Ugo Bertotti presented his graphic novel Vivere (Coconino Press-Fandango editions) together with Prof. Bruno Gridelli, Vice President of UPMC International and former director of ISMETT IRCSS in Palermo, a center of excellence for transplantation and high-specialty therapies established from a collaboration between UPMC and the Region of Sicily. Elvira Terranova, an Italian journalist from ADN Kronos, acted as moderator for the event.

Vivere deals with the difficult subject of organ transplants and donation, and is based on true events that took place at ISMETT. Selma (the novel main character) was a Palestinian refugee who had decided to flee from Syria with her husband and two kids in search of a better life. During the boat trip with other refugees also escaping the war, Selma suffered a terrible head injury. When she arrived in Syracuse, Sicily, the emergency team could do nothing to save her. Her family, with the support of a Palestinian nephrologist working in Syracuse, authorized the organ donation. Thanks to this, three Italian patients who had been on the waiting list for a long time were able to receive a transplant alongside Selma’s most precious gifts: life.

Prof. Bruno Gridelli, expert in multi-organ transplantation, wrote the afterword of the book and spoke about his relationships with the recipients: “Most times there is a relationship with the patients, but we are still far from understanding what it means to live while waiting for an organ transplant. We talk, so we know there is suffering. I have met many of the people mentioned in the book, but I have never been on the other side. This experience helped me to better understand what I do.” Prof. Gridelli said “As I get older I understand that each of us wants the same thing: to focus on what binds us together rather than on our differences; and this clearly emerges from the book.”

Also Hasan Awadk, the doctor who took care of Selma, gave this moving contribution: “We created a very special relationship. The most difficult moment was when I had to communicate to Selma’s family that there was no more brain activity, and ask if they wanted to donate her organs. A human story that I will never forget.”

Mr. Bertotti’s research for his book involved interviewing Selma’s relatives and friends, the ISMETT-IRCSS physicians, and meeting the three patients who were able to return to life thanks to Selma’s organs. “Our idea was to say something about donation,” said Bertotti, the author. “In 2014, Dr. Gridelli and I spoke, and he proposed the story of Selma, who had donated her organs. This is not an easy topic for those who illustrate. Generally, those who illustrate are people working alone, and usually comic books are about superheroes. But when you plunge into a story like this, the most beautiful and interesting thing is that you can perceive the viewpoint of the people who are telling their story.  I usually make a deal with those who tell me their stories: I interpret the story but I always try to respect what the people who told them said.”

“Many years ago Bertotti and I had tried to make a video on this matter, and then make a movie. We looked for funding, but didn’t get any, so we dropped the idea.” said Prof. Gridelli “Then I saw the film “Waltz with Bashir,” based on the graphic novel, and I realized that this is an expressive tool, suitable for telling stories in general, and ours in particular, without indulging in rhetoric.”

Vivere calls to reflect on this sensitive subject, advocates for organ donation, and follows the many organ donation campaigns launched in the last few years by the Italian Ministry of Health. Organ donation data in Italy in 2016 is very encouraging: 3,736 transplants performed – the highest number ever in this country. Living-related donations are increasing after the 20.4% boost already reported in 2015. However, in Italy the gap between the number of patients requiring a transplant and the available organs still remains a serious issue.

ISMETT-IRCSS currently performs all surgical techniques that help reduce this gap, particularly the “split liver” (during which the donor’s liver is split for two recipients) and living-related transplants for which ISMETT-IRCSS can rely on its extensive experience. Other combined transplants, including liver-kidneys or liver-lungs, are also performed at ISMETT-IRCSS. The clinical results achieved and available from the ISMETT-IRCSS and National Transplant Center official websites, are among the best on a national and international level.