Mellisa and husband helicopter ride

Melissa’s story update

How it feels to receive the greatest gift of all, a heart transplant

Without my heart transplant, I would have died from inherited cardiomyopathy. Years later, I am dedicated to living my life for two hearts.

Dear You,

My name is Melissa.

I am a daughter, a sister, a wife, an aunty, and a godmother. I’m also a survivor. For 16 years I battled inherited dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) until finally, my heart couldn’t fight anymore. I was told I was in end-stage heart failure, and I needed to be put on the transplant list for a new heart.

In February 2016, I received the greatest gift of all – a new heart.

The recovery, both physically and emotionally, was incredibly hard.

I was in St Vincent’s Hospital for 6 months after the transplant. As grateful as I am, my new heart and I didn’t have the best 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.

Lying in a hospital bed that I couldn’t imagine ever leaving, 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 on the other side, 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 act of kindness.

As sick as I was, I knew that I couldn’t continue like this and that I needed to live an honest and truthful life, one that my donor would be proud of. I wanted to live a life for two hearts.

So I created a bucket list, not knowing what my donor might have had on theirs. No item was too big or too small for the bucket list, I just wanted to honour them the best that I could.

Since my transplant, I have been busy checking off my list.

Melissa Bucket List After Heart Transplant

I have seen snowfall for the first time and 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.

And I have travelled to places I only dreamed of seeing when I was sick. On my first transplant anniversary, my sister-in-law, Marissa and I flew over Heart Reef at the Great Barrier Reef. On my 2nd transplant anniversary, I married my best friend and soul mate, Simon.

Next on my list to check off, I would love to visit Paris and see the Eiffel Tower. And to go back to heart reef and actually swim around it to celebrate my 10th transplant anniversary. And that’s to name just a few, I have years to catch up on after all.

Melissa in heart-shaped sculpture on her heart anniversary

I woke up on my 41st birthday in December while on a cruise in the pacific ocean, watching dolphins swim from our balcony. It was truly magical to witness. It's those moments that give me perspective on the world and how I shouldn't let my grief and battle with heart disease consume me. Its moments like that give me the strength to fight whatever battle lies ahead and be grateful for the extra time I have received.

For my 7th transplant anniversary, we flew back down to Adelaide to surprise our friends at their engagement party. We got to visit The Pink Lakes, Wineries and visit with friends that have become family through transplant.

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

Thanks to my organ donor, and researchers at the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute, I've got to make precious memories with my family. I'm so honoured to be able to watch my niece and nephew grow older. They know that Aunty Mel has a special heart from a stranger, takes special meds to keep her alive and her favourite colour is red to support heart research.

I find it truly remarkable what research can achieve. It's beautiful to know that families won't have to go through the heartache that we have.

I never want to take the gift I was given for granted. Living my life to the fullest is my way of saying thank you.

Melissa's signature
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