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Giving a second chance at life

Can you provide context into the story of your heart transplant?

I had end-stage cardiomyopathy and severe cardiomegaly (an enlarged heart), a life- threatening heart condition caused by a heart attack in 2006. I had been on the waiting list for a new heart from December 2010 until I eventually received a heart transplant on 5 December 2012. My life was a constant waiting game, hoping for the call to give me a new life.

Did you ever think your life would be dependent on an organ transplant?

Never in a million years. I was an active sportsman who played rugby, golf, bowls, squash, cricket, did athletics and I had never been ill until I had the heart attack at age 55.

What was the most daunting part of your journey? If any, what are the difficulties you experienced during the waiting period for the organ?

Things were not normal and I tired easily. I was too fatigued to do much. I had less and less energy. Simple things such as getting out of bed, taking a bath or shower, or even walking, was hard for me to do. I was struggling to breathe. Struggling to do ordinary, everyday things that most people take for granted. While the waiting period promised a new life, it also confined me and made me realise that life was not in my own hands. I had to keep my phone on me at all times because Dr Koen could call at any moment. Trying to stay upbeat and maintain a semblance of normalcy, I continued to keep myself busy as far as possible.

What made all the challenges worthwhile?

Receiving a second chance at life and returning to “normal” made all the challenges worthwhile.

How has your life been enriched after the life-changing operation?

I am now living a full life and have a full-time job again, doing what I love most – sports management and also participating in sports again.

Can you say, because of the transplant your life has returned to “normal”?

As normal as one can be while taking a lot of medication daily and also having side effects from the medication from time to time.

Do you have any words of wisdom to share pre- or post-transplant, or even on life generally? Has there been any significance, profound realisation or lessons learnt during your journey?

Don’t take life for granted. One takes being able to breath for granted until one struggles to breathe. My journey has given me a renewed appreciation for my body, my life and also helped to shift my perspective.

How have your feelings on organ donations and transplants evolved?

I have always felt that organ transplantation can save thousands of lives every year, but the shortage of donors is a major limiting factor to increasing transplantation rates. To allow more patients to be transplanted before they die while on the waiting list, an increase in the number of donors is necessary.

Have you become an advocate for organ donation, especially imploring family and friends to sign up?

I am an advocate for organ donation and have signed up all my relatives and friends, and regularly do talks at hospitals, businesses and other meetings about becoming organ donors.

Were you an organ donor before your transplant?

I was an organ donor before my transplant.

What would you say to someone who is not a donor and who may be considering becoming an organ donor?

Donation is the giving of an organ and tissue to help someone who needs a transplant. Committing to be an organ donor is a generous decision that can save the lives of up to eight individuals.

Any further comments?

The activities that I can now take part in would not have been possible without the gift that my donor family most generously allowed me to receive. Hopes and dreams that previously were slipping away, have been restored and have become realities. They have given renewed life to not only me but also my family and friends. They affected and touched many, many lives and I wish to thank them from the bottom of their son’s heart that now beats inside of me. And above all, I want to thank my Creator who made it possible for me to receive this gift of life.

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