My name is Anthony Breakey which is rather apt as my surname rhymes with the Billy Rae Cyrus song Achy Breaky Heart, where he sings, “Don’t break my heart, my Achy Breaky heart….” Little did I know that this song would take on a whole new meaning to me after I’d sustained a massive heart attack in 2008. Up until my heart attack I’d been very healthy, extremely fit and pushed myself to the limit in everything I did. My Cardiologist said that I suffered a massive heart attack and had had a leaking aortic valve since birth, which I was totally unaware of. All my life I’d pushed myself to the limit, whether it was sport, work or whatever I undertook.
To give you an idea of just how far I used to push myself; at the time of my heart attack I going to gym 3/4 times a week, playing golf once a week, body boarding at my favourite break, Vic Bay, running marathons, mountain biking, playing and coaching rugby, worked as a Regional Sales Manager and National Trainer for the company I was with, which involved travelling the Southern and Eastern Cape monthly and flying both locally and internationally most months. I was also active in my church and was an active Priest in my community. I remember a nursing sister asking me what I did, after I’d been brought in for the massive heart attack, when I mentioned the above she mumbled something about my brains being “fried” from the morphine I’d been given! I was rather offended by her remark and when my wife was allowed in to see me, she confirmed everything that I’d said was true, much to the amazement of the nursing sister.
I was 42 when I was struck down by this massive heart attack. I’d left home for a mountain bike ride up the Outeniqua Mountains with a burning sensation in chest, but I wasn’t going to let a tight chest and heartburn ruin my ride. Had I known that this was the start of a heart attack I would never have continued on the strenuous 2 hour mountain bike ride. Eventually when I made it back home, I was in excruciating pain; it felt as if a huge belt was being tightened around my chest notch for notch. My wife then suggested I take a Disprin which I refused as I didn’t see the benefit of taking it. At my wife’s, third request I decided to take it and this according to my Cardiologist saved my life, as it unblocked my main artery which had completely blocked. As I was struggling to breathe my wife took me to the local GP. While waiting in the reception room I fell off the chair in unbearable pain, that’s when people started running around and an ambulance was called to take me to hospital. It was here that my wife and daughters were told that it was touch and go as my heart had been severely damaged. Through the Grace of God I survived. According to the attending Physician I would not have survived had I not been so fit.
I lived with heart failure from the day of my heart attack. My ejection fraction, which is the amount of blood being pumped from the heart to the body, was about 30% and anything below 40% is termed as heart failure.
In 2011 I underwent open heart surgery as my ejection fraction was at 25% and dropping. I received a mechanical aortic valve as my one was leaking excessively and the heart had formed an aneurysm which was repaired. My breathing was becoming more and more laboured which led to me being medically boarded as my ejection fraction had dropped to 19% and at one stage went down to 12%.
I was told in 2011 to go for tests to see if I qualified to be placed onto the heart transplant list. I decided not to do this as the open heart surgery had been very traumatic for both me and my family. In 2013, after being hospitalised yet again and being told that my family should come to the hospital as my body was starting to shut down I decided to go for the transplant tests if I made it out of the hospital. The sadness on the faces of my daughters and wife made me rethink the whole transplant decision. It was the best decision I ever made! It is difficult to explain to someone the absolute fear of waking up and feeling as if you’re drowning, in fact I was drowning from the inside as water had backed up on my lungs as the heart was so weak and the lungs in turn couldn’t do their job. This drowning sensation occurred on numerous occasions and it is terrifying when it happens while you are sleeping.
Being medically boarded at age 45 and having to watch the world pass you by is a sad place to be. Having been so active and now all I could do was sit in a chair all day, at times on oxygen and permanently on a apnoea machine takes a lot readjustment. I went through some difficult times and became depressed and I remember asking God to please take me home to Him. I also remember praying and asking Him if he wasn’t going to take me home then please give me the strength to deal with my broken heart. In my time of being boarded I have written an Autobiography titled, “Blue Boy with a Broken Heart,” which I hope to publish soon and I’m also planning on starting a sequel soon. I also remember asking God that should He take me home, He must please allow me to die with dignity. That’s the thing with folks like me who are faced with their own mortality; you learn to accept death much earlier and quicker than those who haven’t suffered a life threatening disease.
In 2013 I was placed on the heart transplant list as a priority patient. In mid 2016 I was called to the hospital as a donor heart had been found, I was prepared for theatre only to be told 10 mins before I was to be wheeled off to theatre that the donor heart wasn’t suitable. Some may feel despondent faced with such a scenario but I chose to take the positives instead. I saw it as a sign that God had not forgotten me and He was reminding me of this fact. It was at this time that I was becoming depressed and was having doubts that I would receive a transplant. I would only learn later, how few transplants are done and how many people die while waiting for a transplant.
I decided to become involved with the Organ Donor Foundation at around this time, as I’d started to hear of the dire situation involving patients waiting for transplants. I signed up for Volunteer training and went on to man their info/awareness tables for them. It was heartening to see the mostly positive responses we received by assisting in spreading the ODF’s awareness.
Towards the end of 2017 I was hospitalised again. This was one of the average 5 times a year that I was hospitalised since 2011! The 2017 hospitalisation was different, as I’d picked up other problems due to my heart failure and had a couple of ops during this stay. I spent Christmas and New Year in hospital and ended up spending 3 months in total in hospital. My Cardiologist used to waltz into my room most mornings singing the Achy Breaky song to me, making my stay far more pleasant than it might have been. Some mornings when he wasn’t up to the singing he would ask the nurses to do so as in the end I had become a part of the family in the hospital.
After my second month in hospital I mentioned to my Cardiologist that I wanted to return home as I’d made peace with the fact that I may not get a transplant. He advised me not to, but agreed to keep me one more week and then let me go home if I still wanted to.
It was a Sunday that we had had the conversation about me going home. The Monday I got the call in my hospital bed that a donor had been found and that I may be operated on Monday night or Tuesday morning. I decided not to become too excited remembering my previous experience. Later that evening my Surgeon informed me that it all looked good and I would be transplanted Tuesday morning
I was informed by my surgeon that I may “see” strange creatures on the ceiling when I came around from the operation, a result of the medication administered during surgery. My wife who was with me when I came around from the op, said when I opened my eyes I began to study the ceiling intently, then I said, “That’s good there are no goggas on the ceiling!” The second thing I said, “it feels so easy breathing!” I have been unbelievably blessed with a second lease on life, and feel so grateful and indebted to my donor and his family that I intend honouring this ultimate gift of life by living the best possible life.
Today, 5 months after my transplant I truly feel like a million bucks! I can walk an entire supermarket whereas I used to plan a couple of trips to walk through the same supermarket! I have had some depression, mostly related to a friend I lost in hospital and to the donor and his family but I’m getting stronger each day. It feels as if I have a future again.
Recently I was able to work solidly for two days in the garden, 10 years after the last time I could do this before my heart attack. I believe God has given me a second chance and I intend embracing it wholeheartedly! I have made numerous friendships with Doctors, Sisters, Nurses, pre and post transplant patients and the ODF team, for this I’m truly grateful. I’m planning on raising awareness for the ODF by running a half marathon next year and am also going to become active with the ODF once I’ve moved back to my home in George in order to raise awareness in the Southern and Eastern Cape.
Please Talk about, Register and Share your decision to be an organ and tissue donor with family and friends. You may just be a hero to someone one day. #BeAHero