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Many people are reticent to say how old they are.  I on the other hand am so blessed to be able to say that I am a 69 year old woman from KZN.  Why? Because I received a heart transplant in January 2001, and have now had my new heart for 17 and a half years. What a blessing this has been. I thank God and my donor for a second chance in life.


My first husband passed away of a heart attack. I had met and married my second husband, Daan, and while on honeymoon in the Seychelles, began experiencing pain and numbness in my right arm. After a few sessions of physiotherapy, my face and legs began to swell.  My GP immediately sent me to a cardiologist.  My cardiologist told my husband that I will need a transplant in a few years. My life was about to change forever. I was diagnosed with severe viral cardiomyopathy-my heart had weakened and was dilated, due to an influenza virus, the Coxsackie B virus. My heart muscle was irreversibly damaged.

Every time I had a setback I became weaker and weaker. My heart started to fail. I experienced the all side effects, such as failing kidneys, fluid retention (up to 20kg, at times) and the formation of life-threatening blood clots as a result of the slow-moving fluid.  In October 1999, I had a severe stroke, and once again, my family and I had to face the reality that without a heart transplant, my life would end.

In January 2000 I was in and out of the hospital. I had 3 heart shocks, but these did not help. I was worked up (had all the tests done to see if I was a good candidate and had no other underlying issues) to go onto the transplant waiting list. I found it very hard at times as a person doesn’t want to believe you are so weak, but you are. For me reading a book or talking to someone was exhausting. I had to mentally get my mind right to accept the transplant knowing that without a transplant, my life would end. It was very stressful and I remember it feeling like I was experiencing 4 seasons in a day as I worked through this whole experience.  My family and friends were a great help and going to a donor support group helped me with my 100’s questions.

That call that would change my life finally came in January 2001. Out of shock, I promptly slammed the phone down. Thankfully, I was phoned back.  At Durban’s Life Entabeni Hospital, the four-hour operation was a success, and with the heart of a stranger beating in my chest, I awoke six hours later.  My first thought was “I’m alive”. Thankfully, my life would never be the same. I never looked back.  Today,  as I did from the moment I took my first breath after the transplant,  I look at my world though fresh eyes  My love for sport and the outdoors was rekindled.  Four months after my transplant operation I was already walking the 3 km to church, something I could only dream of prior to my transplant.  I felt so blessed.


In 2006, I qualified at the South African National Transplant Games, for the World Transplant Games in the 3km Walk event.  In 2007 I went to Bangkok, Thailand for my first world Transplant Games.  Since them I have represented South Africa at the games held in Australia, Sweden, Durban and Spain. I’ve achieved two silver medals and one bronze medal for the 3 km Walk event.   Being in good health is what motivates me to train and compete at the games. It is such a privilege to be able to compete and to be fit and healthy.

I thank God, my Donor and her family for the second chance that I received. Today I live to live, and motivate other people who are sick or waiting for transplants.

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3 Comments

  1. Diane Towers

    How awesome! Sannie, I met you on a flight from Joburg to Durban in 2002. You were chatty & bright & mentioned your transplant but I was grieving – having just lost my son in the June and I didn’t have the ‘heart’ to tell you! (See Feb 2018 archive). Best Regards, Diane

    Reply
    • Janet Legemaate

      Oh Wow Diane! It is a small world. I will make sure that Sannie sees this. She really is the most amazing individual who motivates many people with her positive attitude and love of life. Kind regards Janet

      Reply
    • Sannie Liebenberg

      Hi Diane,
      Yes it is a small world. I am so blessed. So sorry about your son. If it is ok with you , I would love to contact you, or invite you on FB.
      Kind Regards
      Sannie

      Reply

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