Until I discovered I needed a new heart, our family hardly knew anything about organ donation, apart from what we heard periodically on the radio or read in the print media.
We never took the time to really understand it. Of course, we would do the usual blood donations, but organ donation was never something we really considered.
I had always been a keen athlete, running races every weekend, and visiting the gym often. I had completed numerous marathons – in fact, I had 14 Comrades medals, as well as nine Two Oceans medals and I was planning on doing my tenth in 2017.
Overall, I led a healthy lifestyle. Gardening was a passion of mine and I valued spending quality time with my family; family life is so precious. I loved my running and I took my health seriously, so no alcohol, no cigarettes, no fatty foods or takeaways.
But then in January 2017, I had a sudden heart attack, no warning signs at all. I had just returned from a business trip, and when I was relaxing outside, I felt weird – hot and light-headed. I collapsed twice whilst waiting for an ambulance. After the second collapse, my wife refused to wait another second. She put me into the car and drove to Kingsway Hospital on KwaZulu-Natal’s South Coast.
After four long hours spent trying to stabilise me, the doctors diagnosed me with acute myocardial infarction. A stent was inserted and my doctor assured me that my prognosis was good.
A month later I was discharged and went home to recover. But a week later I felt uneasy and was rushed back to ICU since some of my meds were apparently not working as well as expected. I returned home after a week with a whole bag of meds that were now needed to sustain my heart.
After each check-up, my doctor insisted I was doing fine, so I was happy that I seemed to recover well, and would be able to get back to my life and the things I loved doing. I really embraced life after my ordeal, living each day to the fullest.
I spoiled my family and we spent many special moments together. I did not understand the seriousness of my condition though until the doctor at Busamed explained the ins and outs to my wife and I after all the testing had been conducted.
The testing included an MRI and it was revealed that my heart was beyond repair and I needed a new heart!
I was devastated to hear this and a lot of conflicting thoughts ran through my mind. How could this be when I seemed to be doing so well? I needed time to digest. I had to ask my wife to bring me a can of Coke to help cope with the shock of this terrible news.
It was then that I was listed for a heart transplant, and my wife immediately signed up as a donor.
From 2017, I was placed on medication. Having already had a stent inserted. I was more sensitised to my condition and aimed to really enjoy every minute of every day. I recovered from the surgery and went back to work in March.
Gradually, I introduced some light exercise into my daily routine, and soon, I was back in the gym. I felt comfortable.
But in April 2019, at my annual check-up, my doctor suggested another angiogram, a procedure that uses X-ray imaging to see your heart’s blood vessels. The test is usually carried out to determine if there is a restriction in blood flow to the heart.
On May 2, I was wheeled out of theatre with another two stents and a thumbs-up from the doctor. Just a week later on May 11, I collapsed after a session in the gym on my son’s 18th birthday. I woke up in the ICU at St Augustine’s Hospital.
I had suffered another attack, this one mild, but still serious enough to require an additional stent. I endured and worked towards regaining my strength, but my mind and soul were in a kind of turmoil. Why was this happening to me? All I wanted was to live a normal life and do the things I loved.
By August, my condition had worsened and I was sent to Busamed Hospital’s Trauma Centre. After seeing a doctor, I was admitted for further tests. Two days later I was diagnosed with right-sided heart failure, which meant that the right side of the heart was not pumping blood to the lungs as well as normal.
I was forced to spend a week at a time in hospital to drain fluid build-up, and it was then that I was listed. By October my condition had deteriorated to the point where I was bumped up to the priority list.
Since August 2019, it has been a long battle to stay healthy. Fighting the urge to exercise, quench my thirst for water, tend to my flowers and do things with my family, became a nightmare. I fought with myself, why me? Why now? What next? How long a wait do I have?
It is now August 2020 and my angel has yet to find me.
Being on medication just to keep my heart beating has taken its toll on my mind, body and family life. I get tired just walking around the house, I cannot do much, other than my work, and then a short stroll around the garden. I am restricted to drinking only 1.2 litres of water per day, and my diet consists of small amounts of soft foods and includes a lot of vegetables, so that my heart is not strained during digestion.
I was a carefree happy-go-lucky person with a good healthy lifestyle. Now I have become more and more cautious in everything I do.
Sometimes it is depressing. Nobody really knows what goes on in the mind of a person going through something like this. It is a daily struggle and my mind is the greatest prison. Sometimes it wanders into the “what ifs” and “could haves,” but when reality snaps me back to the present, I am left remembering what is actually going on with my body.
It is difficult, especially coming from such an active background, to have to be dependent on everyone around me.
It is sad… but despite all these negative aspects to my condition, something positive I have learnt along the way is that life is short; we should live in the present and make the most of our moments with the people we hold dear to our hearts… And I now value every minute I spend with my family.
Asked what I would like to say to other South Africans about organ and tissue donation, my response is that if I had my way, I would say to the government that any natural deaths should be considered for organ donation.
In other words, legislation should be passed for an “opt-out” system, which would mean that adults who pass away from natural causes will be considered organ donors, unless they have recorded a decision not to donate for religious or other reasons.
This system is currently in play in Austria, the Czech Republic, Finland, Belgium, Sweden, France, Greece, Hungary, Israel, Italy, Spain, Norway, Poland, Turkey, and Singapore, among other countries.
Each South African should be required to look within them and consider becoming a donor.
Our family is wiser, having read up on all the facts and having established that just one person’s decision to donate their organs could end up saving as many as seven lives.
It is the greatest gift anyone could give to any individual, and no amount of money can compare to having an angel donate an organ to help extend your life. Life is a precious commodity. We should use it to its fullest extent and try to save lives when our own life comes to an end. That is the way it should be.
What I want most in this world is to see my daughter graduate with her degree, and my son complete his matric.
These milestones are the culmination of all the values I have encouraged my children to embrace. I have a young family and I want to see them settle in their independence and make their futures a place of comfort and happiness.
I want to be able to take my wife on an overseas trip, just like we promised one another we would enjoy in the future. So many dreams I have yet to live…
My greatest dream is to participate in the World Transplant Games. This would be the ultimate bucket list item for me. When transplant co-ordinator, Cindy Goldie, mentioned this to me, I was in awe of the idea that I could one day be a part of this amazing experience.
And that is my driving force, my motivation to keep going no matter what, to push forward and stay fit through this anxious waiting game. I will be there.
We pray every night that an angel will come our way and provide the solution to our dilemma. I need to survive and watch my children grow. I, and others like me want to live. We want to enjoy the time we have with our loved ones, so I implore ALL South Africans to please contemplate the plight of the many patients waiting on organs, and seriously consider registering as organ donors.
This poem was written by my daughter, Chesney Reddy, 22 years old.
A Heart’s Protector
You see me, but not actually me.
You see my eyes holding so much hope.
You look at me fully-covered, mask tightly worn and sanitiser
ready to be used in a second after touching anything.
You judge me for taking extreme precautions, but you don’t know me.
They see me, but they don’t know me.
They see my mother politely asking the person behind her, to
“Please stand two metres away, see, where it’s marked.”
They look at the person, ignore my mother and continue standing right behind her.
She asks again, sternly this time. Only to get told off.
They judge her, thinking she has OCD, but they don’t know her,
or her reason.
I see me, and I know me.
I see my family fighting to protect a fragile, struggling heart.
A heart that’s different.
A heart that has no choice but to be replaced… a vulnerable heart.
The heart of my father.
What you see in someone is hardly the reality until you find out
Be kind, be safe, always.
– Poem written by, Danielle Chesney Reddy, during the Corona virus pandemic, which poses a particular danger to anyone with underlying conditions, like chronic heart disease.