Mellissa and husband selfie

Melissa's story: Her life was saved by a heart transplant

Diagnosed with cardiomyopathy, Melissa battled heart disease for 16 years until she needed an urgent heart transplant.

“I can still hear the words in my head, ‘Melissa you’re in end stage heart failure’. My time was up, but I felt like I hadn’t started living yet.” – Melissa

For as long as Melissa can remember heart disease has claimed the life of those she loves. When she was 10 years old, she lost her father to a massive heart attack.

“He said goodbye one afternoon and went to football training. He never came home. He was only 42 years old.”

Then when Melissa was 17 she lost her beloved mum Christine to cardiomyopathy – a heart disease that prevents the heart from pumping properly. It’s another painful memory for Melissa.

“The last words my mum ever said were ‘I think I’m going to black out’. I didn’t have time to reply before she went into cardiac arrest.”

Melissa and her older brother Michael were still just kids and had already lost both of their parents. Cardiomyopathy has now robbed Melissa of her mum, four of her aunties and two of her uncles, all before they reached the age of 50.

Genetic testing revealed Melissa’s family had inherited cardiomyopathy

Melissa’s family desperately needed answers and didn’t want anyone else to go through the loss and heartache they had.

In 2000, Melissa and her remaining family were invited to be part of genetic testing run by Professor Diane Fatkin at the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute. As a result, they discovered they suffered from familial cardiomyopathy, and Melissa learned she too had inherited the disease. She was devastated by the news.

Melissa’s life became a battle to survive, until medical treatments stopped working. One day her doctor told her she was in end-stage heart failure. A heart transplant was now her only hope.

Medical treatments stopped working; Melissa was in end stage heart failure. A heart transplant would save her life.

Melissa recovering in hospital after her heart transplant

Melissa was in shock. “My fiancé Simon had only just proposed and I kept thinking ‘why did this amazing man walk into my life, only for me to have to leave him. It was so cruel.’

“To hear those words, that I was dying and quite rapidly, was utterly terrifying,” she says.

Melissa started the paperwork for the transplant waiting list.

She had dental exams, bone scans, skin tests.

“I remember one day the doctor asked me ’Why do you deserve this gift?

And I didn’t know what to say. Because why does anyone think they deserve to be here?!”

“I told him, ’I lead a very simple life, but nothing makes me happier than Sundays. My brother always makes spag bol for everyone and we sit around and listen to music and laugh and everything is good. And I don’t want to miss that.’ And the doctor said that was reason enough.”

How did Melissa’s heart transplant change her life?

Even after her transplant, Melissa still suffered problems. Her kidneys struggled, she had high levels of rejection and then doctors discovered an arrhythmia in her heart.

Even now, living with a new heart holds it's challenges and anxieties. Watch as Melissa takes you inside a day in the life of a heart transplant patient.

“My heart transplant saved my life. Before I felt like I was just existing. Every year on my birthday I would blow out my candles and wish for the same thing – to survive until the next year.”

Melissa cherishes every precious moment with her loved ones, and she is making up for all those years she lost being so sick.

“Without the gift of my new heart, I wouldn’t have married the love of my life, or got to see my nieces and nephews grow.

Above all, Melissa knows that none of this would have been possible without medical research and organ donation. That's why she is dedicated to doing all she can to advocate heart research, and help others like her.

"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 proudly show my scar on my chest to start the conversation about organ donation.”

By supporting heart research, you are helping scientists in their mission to improve heart transplantation so people like Melissa get the chance to not only survive, but finally live.

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