By late-2008, Steve Jobs was so sick that he had stopped coming into office to supervise Apple’s day-to-day operations. The then-Apple CEO could hardly get out of his bed every morning, due to a medical condition called ascites – a gastroenterological side effect of cancer that caused his belly to swell.
The situation was dire, and it was getting worse by the minute.
The few who got to saw Jobs described him as “sick, gaunt [and] frail.”
As months passed, Jobs’ need to have a liver transplant became more and more urgent… until someone unexpected appeared at the door, offering his liver to save Jobs’ life: his future successor, Tim Cook.
Veteran technology reporter Brent Schlender and Rick Tetzeli chronicled this intense episode that occurred just a few short years before Jobs’ eventual death in their new book, Becoming Steve Jobs (available on March 24, via Fast Company):
One afternoon, Cook left the house feeling so upset that he had his own blood tested. He found out that he, like Steve, had a rare blood type, and guessed that it might be the same. He started doing research, and learned that it is possible to transfer a portion of a living person’s liver to someone in need of a transplant. About 6,000 living-donor transplants are performed every year in the United States, and the rate of success for both donor and recipient is high. The liver is a regenerative organ. The portion transplanted into the recipient will grow to a functional size, and the portion of the liver that the donor gives up will also grow back.
After going through a series of tests to determine whether a partial transplant was even feasible—it was—he stopped by Jobs’s home in Palo Alto to tell him the good news; Jobs refused. “He cut me off at the legs, almost before the words were out of my mouth,” said Cook. “‘No,’ he said. ‘I’ll never let you do that. I’ll never do that.'”
“Somebody that’s selfish,” Cook continues, “doesn’t reply like that. I mean, here’s a guy, he’s dying, he’s very close to death because of his liver issue, and here’s someone healthy offering a way out. I said, ‘Steve, I’m perfectly healthy, I’ve been checked out. Here’s the medical report. I can do this and I’m not putting myself at risk, I’ll be fine.’ And he doesn’t think about it. It was not, ‘Are you sure you want to do this?’ It was not, ‘I’ll think about it.’ It was not, ‘Oh, the condition I’m in . . .’ It was, ‘No, I’m not doing that!’ He kind of popped up in bed and said that. And this was during a time when things were just terrible. Steve only yelled at me four or five times during the 13 years I knew him, and this was one of them.”
Jobs would later on travel to Memphis, Tennessee to receive his liver transplant which extended his life for two-and-a-half years, according to Walter Isaacson’s biography on Steve Jobs.
Becoming Steve Jobs has received glowing reviews from Apple critics, with well-known Apple blogger John Gruber calling it “the book about Steve Jobs that the world deserves.”