Close

Real life stories

Melissa's Bucket List

My name is Melissa.

I’m 36 years old, I am a daughter, a sister, a wife, an aunty, and a godmother. I’m also a survivor. For 15 years I battled familial dilated cardiomyopathy.  

Melissa recovering from her heart transplant

Three years ago in November, on a normal Monday morning, I was sitting at my desk at work and I just fell off. I had been putting it off for so long just hoping it would go away and I could rest or sleep it away. It was then that I decided I needed to go and get checked. At 10 years old, I lost my father to a massive heart attack and at 17 years old, I lost my beautiful mum to cardiomyopathy.

I knew I couldn’t wait any longer. I stopped at Kmart, got some essentials and drove myself straight to St Vincent’s Hospital.

I was admitted, and over the next few days, they performed several tests to see what was wrong. I can still hear the words in my head. “Melissa, you’re in end-stage heart failure. You’ll need a heart transplant to survive.

I was on the transplant waiting list for 27 days and I was transplanted on the 27th February 2016. I remained in St Vincent’s Hospital for 6 months after the transplant. My new heart and I didn’t have the greatest beginning to our relationship.  I was the Queen of infection and rejection. I had my sternum cracked 3 times and I needed a replacement tricuspid value.

This was just the medical complications. The emotional side of transplant was much more than I ever expected.

On the night of my transplant, there was a lady who also went into the operating theatre. Simon met her husband in the waiting room and they started talking. He said his wife Liz was having a lung transplant… Liz and I are the same blood type. We don’t know for sure but we’ve put the puzzle pieces together and I’m convinced we had the same donor. 

One day after surgery Liz and I were talking and my sister-in-law suddenly burst into tears and said “You guys haven’t skipped a beat, you’re finishing each other’s sentences, it’s like you’ve known each other your whole life and you only met a week ago.”  We even had the same weird food cravings. I said “I can’t stop drinking milk. I just can’t get enough of it. And Liz said “Me either! And I hated milk two weeks ago! Now I just want to drink two litres of it!”

Laying in a hospital bed that I thought I would never leave, I questioned everything that was happening to me, my body and most of all my heart.

I was grieving a complete stranger and a family I would never meet. I wanted to comfort them. I wanted them to know that if they had no one on the other side, that my parents would be looking after them until we could all meet again. I wanted to be able to say thank you and put a face or a name to the person who had made me their last random act of kindness.

I knew that I couldn’t continue like this and that I needed to live an honest and truthful life, one that they would be proud of, I wanted to live a life for 2 hearts. I created a bucket list for my donor not knowing what theirs would be. No item was too big or too small we just wanted to honour them the best that we could.

Life after the heart transplant

We celebrate my donor on the 27th of every month, even if it’s lighting a candle, dancing around the lounge room or having a special dinner.

I have seen snowfall for the first time and even got to build a snowman. I have walked across the Sydney Harbour Bridge, presented the game ball at an FFA Cup match for the Western Sydney Wanders and Donate Life. I have travelled to places I only dreamed of seeing and I even built up enough courage to go on a two-day cruise.

On my 1st transplant anniversary, my sister-in-law, Marissa and I flew over Heart Reef at the Great Barrier Reef. I did it again a year later on my honeymoon because on my 2nd transplant anniversary I married my best friend, my greatest critic and soul mate, Simon. We honoured our loved ones that couldn’t be with us and my beautiful donor.

Next year we are planning to visit the UK and watch Simon’s greatest love, Liverpool play at Anfield and I finally get to visit my sister-in-law, Marissa’s home in Ireland. She is the true heart of our family.

Melissa at the Heart of the West Ball

I have a rewarding job that gives back to people in the community with health issues, I wear red for women with heart disease, and I will always try to show my scar to start the conversation about organ donation.

We all have the power to give someone the greatest gift of all...time.

Because of the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute, my donor, my husband and my family I have received 30 months of time, moments and love I was never meant to receive. I’m exhausted, I’m scarred, I’m grieving, I’m loved, I’m proud and most of all I am here.

If you would like to contribute to Melissa’s Bucket List please email media@victorchang.edu.au

You can help patients like Melissa by supporting vital discoveries at the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute.

Support heart research Learn more about cardiomyopathy