Mr. R lay in a frozen nest of padding and plastic tubes coming from every possible vessel in his body. His family formed a quiet vigil around him as he completed the protocol for therapeutic hypothermia. By all accounts, the person in front of me was nothing more than the pale shadow of the man described by loved ones.

Earlier that afternoon, Mr. R was celebrating his 89th birthday with his entire extended family from Colombia. They ate, drank and were merry in what was described as an epic party – an epic party that came to a sudden and unexpected end when Mr. R suffered a cardiac arrest while salsa dancing, leading to his presence before me in a cardiac ICU.

Over the course of weeks, I came to know his sons and daughters, the beat of his...

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