Steve Jobs Slept Here

06.26.12

Memphis Doctor Who Performed Steve Jobs’ Liver Transplant Bought His House

In 2009 Steve Jobs went to Memphis for a liver transplant, and recuperated in a house bought for that purpose, a house his physician later purchased, writes Andy Meek.

If the walls of James Eason’s $1 million home in a leafy Memphis neighborhood could talk, they’d tell the story of how Steve Jobs recuperated there in 2009 after the late Apple cofounder and CEO flew to Memphis for a liver transplant.

Many of the details of Jobs’s medical struggles through the years–which culminated in the cancer that took his life in October 2011–are well known. But Eason, the owner of the 2-story, 13-room home where Jobs stayed after his surgery in Memphis, knows part of the story better than most.

He’s the transplant surgeon at Methodist University Hospital in Memphis who oversaw the operation that prolonged Jobs’s life. And Eason confirmed this week that he decided to buy the yellow house surrounded by trees last year, two years after Jobs left Memphis and returned to California.

At that point, Jobs still had a final burst of creativity left in him—climaxing in the introduction of the iPad in 2010—before his death at 56 a year later.

Eason appeared before a Memphis-area legislative body Monday to talk about an unrelated matter. The topic was a proposed change to the way organs for transplant are distributed in the local area, but the discussion turned briefly to the well-known transplant Eason performed for Jobs.

The surgeon, who last year accepted an appointment by U.S. Health Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to an advisory committee of the Health Resources and Services Administration, was asked whether it was true Jobs bought a house in Memphis prior to his surgery.

Eason recounted what he knew: that a limited-liability company was set up to buy a house where Jobs could recuperate. Eason added that he bought the house himself last year from that same entity.

Public records show Eason bought it in May 2011.

“I took care of him and visited him in that home,” Eason said of Jobs. “And when I learned that it was going to be going on the market, I asked the administrator of the LLC if I could purchase it.”

Eason went on to explain that Jobs didn’t have to have a Memphis or Tennessee residence to be approved for a transplant.

“He was the top person on that list that day, because he was the sickest person on the list that day,” Eason said.

Eason wasn’t available for comment after the meeting and did not return a phone call made to his office at the Methodist Transplant Institute. Locally, he’s been reluctant to talk about the high-profile operation, and he only briefly mentioned it at a speech in 2009 to the Memphis Rotary Club when he said Jobs was “one patient, and he went through the process like everyone else.”

It is clear, though, that Eason and Jobs were close. The surgeon served as a kind of point-man for the Apple CEO’s care, saying this week that’s something he’s used to in overseeing similarly critical transplants.

He’d even do things like get energy drinks Jobs liked from a convenience store.

Walter Isaacson’s biography of Jobs recounts more of the details surrounding Jobs’s transplant. In early 2009, Isaacson writes, Eason flew to Palo Alto to evaluate Jobs’s condition. The visit was arranged by George Riley, a San Francisco lawyer who worked as an outside counsel for Apple.

Once Jobs was well enough to venture outside, Riley arranged a visit to Sun Studio, the landmark Memphis recording studio where Elvis cut his first tunes.

According to Isaacson, Riley’s parents had by chance both been doctors at the same hospital where Eason worked. Riley and Eason also were friends.

While Steve recuperated in Memphis, visitors from Apple who came to his bedside included Jonathan Ive, Apple’s design guru, and Tim Cook, the man who now fills Jobs’s shoes as CEO. And after leaving the hospital, Jobs recuperated in the home built in 1914 that was bought for him.

But he didn’t stay cooped up there for the duration of his stay in Memphis.

Once he was well enough to venture outside, Riley arranged a visit for Jobs to Sun Studio, the landmark Memphis recording studio where Elvis cut his first tunes.

Sun still functions as a studio today, but it’s also a museum for music fans from around the world. And it’s only about 3 miles from the home where Jobs was staying.

Jobs was so impressed with his tour guide, local musician David Brookings, that he gave him a job at iTunes. Brookings was later flown out to California, where he soon was at work building up iTunes’ early rock and blues offerings.