Memphis doctor recalls time spent saving Steve Jobs' life

By Joe Birch - bio | email

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC-TV) - The new biography of Steve Jobs, the late co-founder of Apple, likely will be the best-selling book of 2011. It tells the amazing life story of Jobs - the Thomas Edison of our age - who quietly arrived in Memphis in 2009 to undergo a top-secret liver transplant.

The Memphis surgeon who performed the transplant has said little about the surgery and even less about his famous patient, because that's the way Dr. James Eason does business.

In a recent interview, Eason said he respects the privacy of every patient, but grew close to the Jobs family since 2009, and has remained super-silent to help protect that relationship. After winning a recent award, Eason received permission from Jobs' widow to share a few insights about the genius who left us all too soon.

"Truly he was a great man of our time, and thought in a whole different dimension than other people we consider highly intelligent," Eason said. "He asked us for a few more years with his family. We gave him that. That was what impressed me most about him. That was his greatest concern."

According to the book, Eason traveled from Memphis to Palo Alto, California to evaluate Jobs in early 2009. Jobs' research into liver transplantation had led him to Methodist University Hospital's Transplant Institute, which is now among the top five transplant centers in America.

On March 21, 2009, a young man in his mid-twenties was killed in a Mid-South car crash, and his organs were made available.

"I called him and told him we had a liver available, and so he flew over here and I went to meet him and escorted him to the hospital," Eason said.

The operation took place that morning.

According to the Jobs biography, Eason oversaw every detail of Jobs' care, with the doctor coordinating his transplant recovery, cancer tests, pain treatments, nutrition, rehabilitation, and nursing.

"I'm the director of the Transplant Institute, so I oversee every patient's care, as I did his," Eason said.

Eason even stopped at a convenience store to buy the energy drinks Jobs liked. He had to convince Jobs, a finicky eater, to consume smoothies - the only thing he would eat - and think of them as medicine his body needed.

The book says Jobs nearly died after developing pneumonia after the transplant, and his children were summoned to Memphis to say their good-byes. But Jobs pulled through.

In the months following his operation, Jobs would take walks in Overton Park. Only once, Eason said, did a passer-by recognize his famous patient, and say he wished he had a camera. Jobs' presence in Memphis for three months in 2009 remained a secret, and only after the Apple co-founder approved did the world find out Steve Jobs had a liver transplant in the Bluff City.

"Following the transplant, he came out with the iPad, and the new iPhone and presented the Cloud. No telling what else is still in the works that he thought of after that time," Eason said.

Eason was present at Jobs' unveiling of the iPad, a special guest of the inventor-showman who savored the debut of new technology that changed our world. And, during his time with Jobs, he became an Apple consumer himself.

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