Sharing is caring!

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.

Please Talk about, Register and Share your decision to be an organ and tissue donor.


  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

    • 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

    • 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


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Sharing is caring!