As a bullied schoolboy, the man who now claims he can complete the first human head transplant was dismally aware of his pitiable social status – “cookie-cutter nerd” – and sought fictional escape. His attachment to Spider-Man’s Peter Parker, another dweeb, lured him deep into the comic book world of Marvel, with its dose of futuristic medicine. That fateful day, he bought Issue 51 of Marvel Team-Up, in which Dr. Strange boasts to Spider-Man and Iron Man, “I myself have surgically rejoined severed neurolinkages…. The nerve endings have been fused, the healing process begun.” This marked Canavero’s first encounter with the idea of spinal cord fusion. And he wanted more.
Three years ago, Canavero, now 51, had his own Dr. Strange moment when he announced he’d be able to do a human head transplant in a two-part procedure he dubs HEAVEN (head anastomosis venture) and Gemini (the subsequent spinal cord fusion). Valery Spiridonov, a 31-year-old Russian program manager in the software development field, soon emerged from the internet ether to volunteer his noggin. He suffers from Werdnig-Hoffman disease, a muscle-wasting disorder, and is desperate. Canavero likens Spiridonov’s willingness to venture into a new medical frontier to cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin’s bold resolution to become the first human to travel to space, back in 1961.