“Dear Doctor Sergio!
I am a 29 years old disabled man with a muscle atrophy. I was so excited to read from newspapers about your research on head transplantation. Please tell me - what resources do you need for a successful operation? Can I be usable to you? I am ready to take part in any experiments, if you need.
With that 60-word email, Spiridonov, a Russian computer programmer and graphic artist, put himself on a path to become patient zero for the world’s first head transplant experiment, scheduled to take place in 2017 (though many in the medical profession are very skeptical that it will ever happen). Spiridonov has Werdnig-Hoffman disorder, an incurable muscle atrophy disease. Most people with his condition don’t make it past their 20th birthday; he knows he’s living on borrowed time. A full head transplant is, he believes, his only chance for long-term survival.
Much of my weekend was spent hanging out with friends discussing the news: Some were too squeamish to discuss it, others utterly fascinated. In every case, the reaction was visceral, immediate, and unrelenting. Will he die? Why would he do that? It felt weird casually discussing this man’s fate, especially when he’s been happy to talk to the press. He speaks nearly perfect English.
"Someone needs to go further where no one has been before. The first spaceman was afraid, I’m sure"
Spiridonov got so many calls this weekend that he had to turn off his cell phone during a television appearance because his phone wouldn’t stop ringing.
For a man who’s planning to get his head chopped off and glued to a donor body, Spiridonov was in incredibly good spirits when I managed to track him down for a Skype call.
Hey Val, thanks so much for doing this. I know things must be crazy for you. Are you tired?
The email Val sent to Dr. Canavero, subject: "i am ready for your experiments!"
How many journalists have called you?
"I show them how I feel in my very weak body"
Were you expecting this kind of reaction?
Why did you decide to come out now? You could have kept it a secret if you wanted.
The operation is scheduled for two years from now. Do you have to do anything to prepare?
Me and Canavero, we do preparation for a conference of the most famous neurosurgeons in Annapolis (Maryland) this summer. He will make a presentation there, uncover some secrets there. He wants me to be there. I seek for support, I seek for people who can help me go to the States. I have a job, I earn money. I am a programmer. It’s a regular job, but going to the States is hard work for me because I need to pay for my tickets, I need to pay for my friends’ tickets who help me move.
"I haven’t walked since I was 1-year old, since I was a little kid. I don’t remember myself walking"
Let’s talk about that for a minute. So much of the coverage has focused on what could happen to you, on whether this is going to work or not, but not many people have asked you about your past. What is your life like?
Has it always been like this? Your condition is degenerative, was it ever better?
Do you understand the science behind the surgery? Do you understand what’s going to happen to you?
You’re not worried?
The operation is supposed to cost $13 million. Are you worried no one will fund it or that it won’t happen?
What are you excited for? What do you want to do in your new body?
Why wait til 2017, why not do it now?
How often do you talk to Canavero?
Do you know why he chose you instead of the other people who emailed him? He said he’s gotten hundreds of volunteers.
You must have seen some of the things people are saying about this in the media, and other doctors who say it’s not going to work.
I know all the risks of this operation. Sure, no one has done this before and no one has the technology to connect the neural cord except Canavero. They’re right to be skeptical, but I hope the doctor will share some of his secrets this summer.
Goodbye, Meatbags is a series on Motherboard about the waning relevance of the human physical form. Follow along here.