Deanne lying in hospital bed

My dad's heart disease

“Dad’s heart disease began when he was about forty. He had many episodes of tightening of the chest, several heart attacks, a triple bypass, stents and balloons.

In March 2015, dad took a turn for the worst. He had suffered six or seven heart attacks in as many weeks, each one becoming more severe than the last. And then, Dad was diagnosed with heart failure.

This was a man that did everyone’s plumbing, but wasn’t a plumber, built his house, but wasn’t a builder, did everyone’s electrical work, but wasn’t an electrician, fixed cars, but wasn’t a mechanic. Nothing could beat him. He would never admit defeat to anything he turned his mind and hands to. He could do everything.

Dad’s only option was an LVAD until a donor heart became available. Because he was so sick the doctors were hesitant to move forward. But his heart was functioning at only 11%, so they had to act quickly. Dad spent the afternoon before his surgery using what little energy he had, to call everyone he knew. To say goodbye. It broke me.

There were many complications during his LVAD surgery and post-surgery. He lay in a coma for three months. Seeing him in ICU made me question how I could’ve possibly supported and encouraged this idea. Was it because I was being selfish and didn’t want to lose my Dad?

Finally he began to improve… Slowly the doctors brought him out of the coma. To see his big, sky blue eyes open, to see his reaction when he saw me... I was on cloud nine. He did it! He made it! He survived!

Dad’s 67th birthday in Sydney post LVAD surgery

Only now my dad wasn’t the man he once was. His life had changed significantly and he was no longer the care free man he’d been. And three months in a coma had massive mental and physical effects on him.

In the days before Christmas, dad had been improving. I remember telling him that I had this feeling, this instinct that his transplant was just around the corner.

Dad arriving back to his home post LVAD surgery

In mid-February 2016 at 2:57am, my mobile phone rang. It was St Vincent’s Hospital Transplant Team. My emotions were mixed. I was anxious and nervous. And then I felt numb with grief and sadness. Somewhere out there, a family had just lost a loved one and during their time of grief, they made the brave decision to donate their organs, to give life to another person, a stranger. Dad called me… His emotions were all over the place. I had to hold it together.

Dad boarded the place for Sydney and I felt like he’d never get there. We headed to the Heart and Lung Clinic where everyone known to mankind was waiting. The more staff we saw, the more tests we had, the more I felt like this wasn’t going to be alright...

I was with dad right until the doors of the surgical room. It was time. I held myself together but I wanted to crumble. He sat up in his bed, hugged me like he’d never hugged me before and I didn’t want to let him go. It felt so final. ‘Thank you for everything. I love you!’ Those were the last words I would ever hear him say.

Photo of his first admission in March 2015 following his first of 7-8 heart attacks

Surgery took about six hours longer than it should have. There were major complications. Finally 17 hours after he went in for surgery, he was taken to ICU. The donor heart had been on ice much longer than it should have and his new heart wasn’t functioning as it should.

Over the next 48 hours, dad went in and out of surgery many times. We slept in the waiting room over these days and barely went home. And then I suddenly felt like something had changed, it felt different. I felt as though dad was no longer with us.

Two and a half weeks down the track and despite everything the medical team had done, there was no improvement. Dad suffered another massive heart attack. We were at the end of the road and we were told no one could sustain life with five per cent heart function. Not even my Dad.

During the family meeting we were asked to remove all machines that were supporting Dad’s life. We chose Friday, 4th March, 2016. We needed a miracle! With my mother, his family, his best mate and my best friend by his bedside, my sister holding his right hand and me holding his left hand, Dad left this world. It took just 13 seconds. He was gone… He was just 67," - Deanne, daughter.

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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