Today is Saturday the 20th October 2012AD
Today is a very special day for me. Firstly my dear mother passed away on this day a year ago. It is hard to comprehend that she is gone but I am sure she is dancing with the angels on her trip through eternity. Secondly twenty two years ago I had a combined heart and kidney transplant at St. Vincent’s Hospital in Sydney. It was the first time this had been attempted in Australia. Here is the chapter from my book about that incredible time:
CHAPTER TITLE: ‘Who is Harry Winsor’
The first thing I remember as I woke up was how well I felt. You have no idea what that feeling is like unless you have been ill for a very long time. In that brief space of only a few seconds a thousand beautiful thoughts of places and loved ones going back over forty years passed through my consciousness. Nothing would ever be the same and I vowed to make the most of this new life, this new beginning. I could hear voices quite close to me and a bright light was filtering through my eyelids. It was only a moment before the outside world in all its glory shone through as I blinked and opened my eyes. There was a lot of commotion as half a dozen voices were all saying “He’s waking up”. Next thing nurses were scurrying around checking blood pressure and my breathing etc. I was still on the ventilator so I was unable to speak but I instantly realized I had made it. There were no winged angels and St. Peter was definitely not standing outside the pearly gates. A whole new adventure was awaiting me. I remember writing on a scrap of paper that I was fine. One of the nurses took this over to my family who were peering through the open door of the Intensive Care Unit about ten metres away anxiously waiting for the outcome. In those days no visitors were allowed into the ward at all for fear of infection. Initially all transplant patients are on large doses of immunosuppressants. It must have been a huge relief for everyone to know that I was responding so well especially in those first few hours. I found out later that they had been up all night. The operation took about eleven hours and they had been in the waiting room all that time. In lots of ways I had the easy part. I can only imagine what they went through. It must have felt like eternity. It did not take me long to settle into the routine in The Intensive Care Ward. I was propped up at about forty five degrees most of the time and was visited by a string of doctors. I think they were all taken aback by how well I was doing considering this was the first time a double transplant with a kidney and heart had been attempted in Australia. Victor Chang came to see me several times as well as several visiting doctors who were just curious to see how it was all going. As for myself I never had any doubts that it would work. This frame of mind certainly helped. All I could think about was getting better as quickly as possible so that I could get on with life. How wonderful to be well again after so many years of chronic illness. It wasn’t long before they had me up and walking. The human body is amazing how it responds. A few steps the first day soon turn into twenty the next day and a hundred the next. The important thing was to get those lungs working as quickly as possible. This is where the infection can be a problem. Dark warm lungs full of moisture are a breeding ground for bugs so the quicker they are working the better. I was not alone in the ward. Next to me my old mate, Abe Greiss who had just had a heart transplant, was not having a very good time and just down from us the lady with the first lung transplant in Australia, [Yes it was all happening.] was doing very well and already looking forward to a bit of shopping! Sadly Abe passed away after a remarkable seventeen years and the lady with the first lung transplant died after only a few months in 1991. “A Current Affair” from Channel Nine had been in on the whole thing from the start. Tracy Bowden was an up and coming reporter with them and I had several interviews with her leading up to the transplant. Everything was planned for the final hours but as Murphy’s Law would have it Tracy was on another case so the cameraman took over. In the end I got eight minutes of prime time television hosted by Yana Wendt. Tracy Bowden has gone on to be a leading correspondent for the ABC and was awarded a United Nations Media Peace Prize in 2004. While we are talking about Channel Nine let us not forget its former owner, that mighty human, the late Kerrie Packer, who was silently working behind the scenes. I found out later and quite by accident that he had lent his plane so that the organs could be flown to Sydney. It is ironic that years later he needed a kidney transplant himself. What can I say to this man who never expected any thanks and who actually went out of his way to remain anonymous. The first few days in the Intensive Care Ward were hectic with endless tests and visits by health professionals. Dr. Peter Macdonald and Dr. Elliott Savdie seemed to be everywhere at once. I was surprised at how small the incision in my chest was, considering the amount of work that went on in there. There was a line of staples running down my body and stitches around my groin area where the kidney had been implanted. Most people assume that the old kidneys are removed and replaced with the new ones. However this is not the case. Removing kidneys from the human body is a complicated business and best left alone. Instead you only receive one kidney not two, and it is generally implanted in the left groin area attached to the Femoral Artery. Two vacuum drains were hanging from this wound and were probably the most uncomfortable part of the whole experience. I was really surprised at how little pain there was in the chest area. The main thing to remember was to cross your arms whenever exerting yourself as it takes a while for the rib cage to reset especially when you are on immunosuppressant drugs. I found it was over three months before I could safely exert any pressure on this area. Remarkably I had very little rejection. The heart biopsies always came back clear. I apparently had a very good match, something that has kept me in good stead all these years. I think I have only had one very mild reading ever. However there was a slight problem with the kidney. About two hundred ml. of fluid was sitting around the graft which hopefully would go away by itself. Otherwise it would mean going in again. Every day the ultrasound showed the fluid was not moving, but just as it was time to make a decision it started to drain and thankfully I was over another hurdle. There is no rest in the Intensive Care Ward. You are on a one on one basis with your nurse for the three shifts of the day. You are propped up at some unrealistic angle and you have to rely on the wardsmen every time you need to move or go to the toilet. Still I was there for a remarkably short time before I was transferred to the ward which was in the older part of the hospital. When I say old I mean well and truly past it’s used by date. Fortunately the hospital has been completely rebuilt since then. The weather was exceptionally hot for the end of October and there was no air conditioning. We sweltered in our beds the rubber underlays became unbearable. There were two of us in the one room. The other old guy had a triple bypass and when he heard what I had just gone through went as pale as a ghost. I will never forget his face. The colour just drained out of him. Outside my room there was a huge spreadsheet taped to the wall showing every conceivable medical thing about me. A troupe of doctors and nurses visited twice a day led by Phil Spratt. They would spend ages poring over this sheet before descending into the room to talk to the patient! There were so many of them that they filed out into the corridor. When the heart doctors had finished Elliott Savdie would arrive with his little band just to check me out also. Of course all the students had a field day with me. They would listen intently through their stethoscopes pretending they knew what was going on, or earnestly read my medical files which were several inches thick by now. Mind you I never complained too much with all this attention, especially as some of the girls were very attractive. My health continued to improve. The transplanted kidney pumped out urine continuously for days at a time disposing of all those toxins that had built up in my body over the years. One of the surgical team told me that the kidney started to produce urine even while they were stitching it in. I found out that the heart transplant team headed by Dr. Phil Spratt did the heart transplant first. Phil Spratt made out he was going to do it, but at the last moment stepped aside to let Julie Mundi take over. It was only her second heart transplant but she certainly did a good job. They then left the chest cavity open while one of them kept an eye on how the heart was going. Meanwhile the renal transplant went ahead. When it was all finished they stapled and wired up my chest and then kept their fingers crossed. The heart transplant team worked their butts off that week doing three major transplants including the first ever lung only transplant and combined heart and kidney transplant. All in the one weekend! It was about then that the visitors started to arrive including some unexpected ones. Besides my family, there was my lovely old friend Thelma Hunter from Coffs Harbour, my dear friend Diane Olbison and the Woodworths from Townsville as well as the Malouf family. Kim popped in every time she had a spare moment and my future mother in law came to see me in a wheel chair. She was just getting over a hip operation but nothing was going to stop her from visiting. I kept recovering at a hundred miles an hour. The “A Current Affair” team came to interview me and Phil Spratt to finalize details for their story. There were several articles in the newspapers and I received loads of mail from people who had seen me on TV or had known me over the years. Unfortunately the bag with all the letters in it got mislaid in the ward so I was unable to answer most of them. It probably got thrown out accidently by one of the cleaners. The second Sunday I was in the ward turned out to be unforgettable. There was a flu epidemic and the ward was very short staffed. It was one of those days from hell for the Ward Sister. Earlier Dr. Spratt had instructed the staff that on no account was I to be given antihistamines. I forget the exact reason why not but he had been pretty emphatic about it and even wrote it on the spreadsheet outside the door. Unaccountably something went wrong and I was given some. Well the next thing I know I wake up on the floor covered in broken glass and bits of tubing and apparatus all over me. I had been hooked up to things on both sides of the bed so that when I fell out of bed, which is apparently what happened, everything went with me including all the equipment from the other side. It was lucky I was not knocked unconscious by the flying debris. It took them over an hour to sort me out. To this day I don’t really know what happened. All I know is I have never heard anyone roar like Phil Spratt when he found out. The whole building shook under the onslaught. I have since worked out that he is really a pussy cat with a heart of gold but not that day. We were all shook up including the patients and everyone was on tippy toes for the rest of the shift I can tell you! Would you believe it was only nine days before I was allowed to go home. It was just simply a miracle of modern science. I could not believe it. Ten days before I had been close to death with an ejection fraction of about twenty per cent. Now I was getting fitter with every passing day. I was also putting on weight. At one stage I only weighed sixty three kilos so any increase was a blessing. During that time I must have experienced every human emotion possible from great sadness to unbelievable joy. Very mixed feelings and many unanswered questions about the donor and the circumstances under which it all happened. Most of those questions have never been answered. I have thought about it many times but every time I have come to the conclusion that the details are a private matter for the family involved. It is such a delicate area and I feel that they have a right to their privacy. I do know which city the donor came from as I found out by accident. The family, if they read this book will probably realize who they are by the dates etc. If they wish to contact me I would be more than willing to cooperate. Even after all these years I still think it is their prerogative to make the first move. All I know is the result has been spectacular as this book illustrates. I have remarried and had another child, Emma, who is now seveteen. That in itself is beyond all measure. This extraordinary experience certainly changed my whole outlook on life. It was like starting again. I believe I am a much better person for the experience and quite frankly I think you could throw anything at me and I would be able to handle it. I decided that for the rest of my life I would try and make someone’s day every day, something I believe I have achieved if not every day close to it. I still find it hard to comprehend and my eyes still well up with tears even as I am writing this page. The whole thing is mind boggling. You are walking around with someone else’s heart inside your chest and in my case a kidney as well. I don’t think you can ever come to terms with that. You just have to accept what a wonderful gift it is and get on with life. I was starting to get used to the routine of taking so many important drugs. It is imperative that you do not miss doses and it sounds easy, but believe me it isn’t. What happens is that you take them so often it is hard to remember whether you have taken them or not. Sometimes you scratch your head only five minutes after you have taken them and wonder, “Did I?” Changes in routine can be particularly dangerous. I find going on holidays can be tricky. I remember we went to Tahiti once and I had all sorts of trouble. Luckily Kim will jog my memory and I will race off to check. Over the years I have developed a system that tells me whether I have taken them or not. I carry all the drugs in a miniature Esky to protect them from heat shock. I always get funny looks when I get on a plane. I’m sure people think I am carrying a six pack of cold beer with me! What a relief it was not to go on dialysis. The last few months I had to go to hospital instead of doing it at home as I was too ill to cope by myself. It meant getting up every second morning at five am and trudging into Royal North Shore Hospital on the train then walking up the hill from the station to the dialysis ward. This used to exhaust me before I even began the day and near the end it used to take me ages as I spent more time resting than walking. The day I had the transplant I had been through this routine. It was a Saturday morning and I was up early as usual. The transplant unit had given me a beeper which I carried around with me. However as luck would have it I forgot the blessed thing that morning and I rang Kim. She was going to work then playing in a tennis competition in the afternoon. She took the beeper with her just in case and I continued with the dialysis. The timing was perfect. Having dialysed that morning my blood was in pretty good shape for the operation. In the afternoon I went back to Kim’s place and took her dog for a little walk. Meanwhile you can guess what happened. Kim was in the middle of a match when all of a sudden the beeper goes off! There was a mad panic to find me. Eventually they did and I rang Phil Spratt who gave me instructions. I picked up my overnight bag which was already packed and we all set off for the hospital. After all that waiting it was finally happening. Actually I was only on the official waiting list about three months which is quite short compared to what some patients go through. It all depends on your age, blood type, weight and the availability of a suitable donor. I remember lying in bed and everyone said their goodbyes. My mother had tears in her eyes and Kim and I said “The Lord’s Prayer” together. The Channel Nine team arrived and took film of me saying farewell to everyone before I was whisked off to the operating theatre. Here a group of nurses checked me out and started to prep me. I remember trying to count to ten and that was it. The rest is history until I woke up fourteen hours later in the Intensive Care Ward! At the entrance to the Heart Transplant Clinic is a wonderful photo portrait of a cheerful elderly man his gentle eyes smiling out at the world. His name is Harry Windsor and he led the team that performed the first heart transplant in Australia at St. Vincent’s Hospital on the 24th October 1968. In the ensuing years he and Victor Chang set about establishing a National Heart Transplant Programme. Dr. Windsor passed away in 1987 but left a legacy that cannot be measured. His own comments about his life’s work probably say it all: “When you are so closely associated with the cessation of life and you are endeavouring to give life to someone who is about to leave life, it takes you a bit closer to the Almighty”. The six months following the operation were a learning curve both for me and I think also the Transplant Team. I doubt whether I would have made it without their diligence and attention to detail. Dr. Macdonald was extraordinary. His workload was and still is enormous. I went to the Heart Transplant Clinic three times a week and the Renal Clinic twice a week right through to June 1991. In the meantime Kim travelled around Africa for five months while I looked after her beloved Alsatian “Buddy” and got my life together. In May Dr. Macdonald agreed that if I showed no rejection over the next four weeks I could go to Europe. Everything went like a dream and in the second week of June, after a brief visit to Tasmania to see my beautiful daughter, I boarded a 747 bound for Thailand carrying with me an ample supply of anti rejection drugs and a pocket full of optimism. My new life had well and truly begun.
Recently I tried to make a list of all the people who were involved with the transplant. There were literally hundreds involved over the ten years that I was cronically ill. All I can do is express my heartfelt thanks to them all. I think the best way to repay all their efforts is to continue to live my life as best I can. Since the transplant I have remarried had a second daughter and painted about five thousand watercolours. What is around the corner who knows? The Loed certainly works in mysterious ways!
Have a nice day.
Pieces of eight! Pieces of eight!