Breagha with her mum

Breagha's Story: Heart Transplant

Diagnosed with the same heart disease that took her sister's life

Two weeks after losing her younger sister to dilated cardiomyopathy, 19 year-old Breagha received the results of a genetic test carried out by the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute’s Professor Diane Fatkin. The results revealed that she too was likely to develop the potentially deadly heart condition.

Characterised by stretching and thinning of the left ventricle, the condition that Breagha and her sister experienced gradually leads to total heart failure by which stage, the only cure is a heart transplant.

“When you’re young you don’t really pick up on symptoms that your heart is not normal,” she says. “My sister was the same and only noticed symptoms when she became very ill.”

Two weeks after her sister’s funeral, Breagha was diagnosed with dilated cardiomyopathy. She was put on medication to stabilise her heart, and a pacemaker was implanted with an in-built defibrillator.

But she kept getting worse. So doctors did something radical; Breagha was to be the first person in Australia implanted with a Mini Ventricular Assistance Device (MVAD). It would alleviate her symptoms, but it wasn’t a long-term fix.

Seven months later, she got the call. A heart was available for transplant. Only, it wasn’t close by. And it wasn’t even beating.

Heart in a box

Doctors acted swiftly. The donor heart was connected to a portable machine and brought back to life with oxygenated blood. It was then injected with a groundbreaking preservation solution that took us 12 years to perfect.

heart in a box

Developed by a brilliant team of researchers at the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute, the solution cuts the amount of damage to the heart, makes the heart more resilient to transplantation and improves the functioning of the heart when restarted.

Together with the portable “heart in a box” machine, which replaced the old esky filled with ice, and the amount of time a donor heart can spend in transit extends from four to 14 hours.

For Breagha, this was quite literally a life-saving breakthrough.

The donor heart needed to travel six hours before it arrived at the hospital, including a four-hour period of no communication while it was on an interstate flight. And before that could even happen, her MVAD device had to be removed.

Despite these challenges, Breagha’s surgery was a total success and her new heart began beating on its own within seconds.

Breagha And Family

A future of possibilities

Breagha’s life has completely changed since her transplant.

“I feel really, really good,” she says. “I have more energy and I don’t feel sick all the time anymore.”
“I’m at university doing a Bachelor of Arts part time, but I have no idea what I want to do. Before my transplant, I didn’t think about the future at all. It just wasn’t on the table. So it’s good I get to contemplate that now.”

Breagha has a future because of your support. Without generous donations from compassionate people like you, we could never have made the breakthroughs needed to save her life – and the lives of many others.

“I’m just so thankful every day. It makes you realise just how precious life is.”

Acknowledgement of Country

The Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute acknowledges Traditional Owners of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures; and to Elders past and present.

Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute - The Home of Heart Research for 30 Years