The big plot twist on General Hospital last week was that Rafe died, and his heart did not go to Alice, who’d been waiting for a transplant since roughly around the same time that Rafe got into his fatal car accident.
Although GH was not the first soap to do an organ transplant story, it did boast what was arguably the best one: 1994’s saga of little BJ Jones’ heart going to her dying cousin, Maxie.
That tale, penned by the incomparable Claire Labine, set the gold standard for a variety of reasons: It had been set up perfectly, so that the climax proved inevitable without being predictable. It involved a good part of the canvas—even if indirectly—with beloved veterans experiencing repercussions long after the initial shock had passed. Plus, it featured stellar performances from everyone from Daytime Emmy winners to elementary school kids.
GH tried going back to the kiddie organ donor well in 2011: Tot Josslyn was cured of kidney cancer by a donation from Jake, the illegitimate son of her mother’s best friend, after Jake was run over by a car driven by his presumed grandfather, Luke. Unfortunately, unlike the earlier saga, this development was telegraphed for weeks. Then, instead of building slowly and playing every beat, it rushed through the plot in a matter of days. Everyone did their best with the material they were given, but the shadow of BJ’s heart simply looms too large for longtime fans.
Another show that went to the Dead Baby/Organ Transplant/Cue the Tears well was Days of Our Lives when, in 2006, Chelsea ran down her half-brother, Zack, on New Year’s Eve. Zack’s liver then went to save his brother’s daughter. While obviously derivative of the GH story, DOOL does get bonus points for making Zack’s killer a major character (BJ was injured in a random school-bus crash)—and a relative to boot. Eventually, Chelsea would end up donating a part of her pancreas to her and Zack’s father, Bo. This didn’t exactly make Chelsea and Bo (or Chelsea and her stepmother, Zack’s mom, Hope) square … but it did help.
A fresh twist on the transplant story came in 2008 on The Bold & the Beautiful. After Storm accidentally shot his sister, Katie, leaving her in critical condition, Storm turned around and shot himself so that Katie could get his heart. Take notes, Chelsea. That’s how we make amends.
Lucky for Katie, getting her brother’s heart did not then prompt her to fall in love with whomever her brother had been in love with.
According to soaps, this is a legitimate scientific phenomenon and a common side effect to organ transplantation.
On Another World, when Shane received Ryan’s corneas, he began seeing Vicky, the love of Ryan’s life, through Ryan’s eyes, and promptly fell in love with her. (In Shane’s defense, it was sort of a requirement that all men in Bay City fall in love with Vicky.)
Meanwhile, in the same P&G soap universe, Guiding Light’s Olivia and Natalia first competed for Gus’s affections (forget that viewers knew he really wanted Harley). Then, when Olivia received Gus’s heart after his death, the two women ended up falling in love. This plot twist most definitely wasn’t telegraphed, as both Olivia and Natalia had previously never expressed any interest in women (exhibit A: the aforementioned Gus). However, the fact that “Otalia” proved one of GL’s most popular, riveting and fresh stories near the end of the show’s run goes a long way toward excusing the contrived way in which it began.
The trope does, however, pose a bit of a problem for One Life to Live’s Viki. When she received her husband Ben’s heart, did it just make her self-involved and narcissistic? (Well, if you ask Dorian …)
One person for whom getting a new organ didn’t lead to a change of heart of any kind was Victor on The Young & the Restless. Victor was partially responsible for the death of Colleen’s father, Brad. Victor set up Colleen so that she would lose her seat on his board of directors. Yet when Colleen died, her mother, Traci, magnanimously allowed Colleen’s heart to go to a dying Victor. (This was instead of doing the logical thing to pay Victor back for what he’d done to Colleen and Brad, not to mention Victor’s schemes against Traci’s late father, John, and brother Jack—which would have been Traci standing in Victor’s hospital room, arms crossed, doing nothing while she watched him flatline.)
Did Traci’s generosity of spirit inspire Victor to turn over a new leaf? Did it at least prompt him to treat the entire Abbot family with a touch more civility? Not really.
Colleen’s heart be damned, Victor is still Victor, happily ordering others around, then cutting them out of his life if they dare to so much as question his wisdom. Victor not only hasn’t fallen in love with any of Colleen’s loved ones, but he continues to not particularly like them either.
Finally, while not an organ, here is a medical procedure that no self-respecting soap transplant list can do without.
In 1973, All My Children viewers were led to believe that Erica had undergone daytime’s first legal abortion (technically, since she did not get her husband’s permission for it, the procedure was still illegal in New York State). But in 2006, the world learned that Erica’s doctor had instead removed the embryo from her womb and implanted it in his wife, resulting in the birth of Josh—or, as he was known by fans far and wide, the Unabortion.
Do you have a favorite soap organ-transplant storyline? Or one that you simply could not stand and feel a pressing need to rant about? Tell us in the comments!