Ward party for heart trans­plant pa­tient


A DUR­BAN hos­pi­tal’s first heart trans­plant pa­tient got the VIP treat­ment yes­ter­day as he cel­e­brated his 67th birth­day as well as his fourth wed­ding an­niver­sary sur­rounded by ador­ing nurses.

One of them, at Net­care St Au­gus­tine’s Hos­pi­tal, was theatre nurse Bar­bara Muh­len­beck, who was on duty in the surgery al­most 17 years ago, when Brian Sim re­ceived his donor heart in a dra­matic race against time.

Nurs­ing staff told yes­ter­day of how the heart, 18 years younger than the pa­tient, only had 25 min­utes of vi­a­bil­ity left when it was re­ceived in the op­er­at­ing theatre.

SAA and Net­care had pulled out all the stops to get the heart from Jo­han­nes­burg to Dur­ban to the crit­i­cally-ill Sim, but there was a cri­sis when the flight was de­layed be­cause of se­vere storms.

Re­al­is­ing the crit­i­cal na­ture of the flight, the 747 in­struc­tor, Cap­tain Nor­man Joseph and his team or­gan­ised that the first flight out be loaded and at the ready.

Then Cap­tain Den­nis Gordge flew the pas­sen­gers and the plane’s spe­cial cargo to Dur­ban in a record 40 min­utes.

Net­care’s re­gional man­ager, Hans Har­man, was wait­ing on the apron to rush the heart to the hos­pi­tal. The five-hour life-sav­ing op­er­a­tion was per­formed by car­dio­tho­racic sur­geon Keith Odayan, who is still Sim’s heart doc­tor to­day.

Back in 2000, Sim had a flu vac­ci­na­tion that dam­aged his heart mus­cle. Just two weeks af­ter this was di­ag­nosed, he re­ceived his new heart. Sim was heard to say at the time that he would never buy an­other lot­tery ticket again, be­cause he had al­ready hit the jackpot.

Given a new lease of life, he had been able to walk his daugh­ter, Sandi, up the aisle; had be­come grand­dad to her two chil­dren, Ryan, 6, and Dale, 4; pad­dled the Orange River with his son, Gareth; and gone hot-air bal­loon­ing.

He has had to re­turn to the hos­pi­tal for an­nual check-ups and, as a re­sult, knows all the nurses in the car­dio­tho­racic ward.

Sim, of Pi­eter­mar­itzburg, was ad­mit­ted to hos­pi­tal at the be­gin­ning of this month with com­pli­ca­tions af­ter surgery to his heart, and as his birth­day and an­niver­sary loomed closer, the nurses de­cided to help him cel­e­brate in style.

His wife, Sharon, was in on the sur­prise and yes­ter­day watched as his army of fans brought in cakes and flow­ers and put a no­tice on the wall of his pri­vate ward read­ing: “Happy birth­day to our amaz­ing, won­der­ful, charm­ing, charis­matic Mr Sim. Your fight­ing spirit and en­thu­si­asm de­fines your won­der­ful char­ac­ter.”

They had his party hat ready and then the nurses and his wife crowded around his bed­side and sang Happy Birth­day. They cheered when he blew out the sin­gle can­dle on his birth­day cake. His wife thanked the nurses for mak­ing them feel “so very spe­cial” and show­er­ing them with love.

A friend of the pa­tient, Lars Wik­strom, then popped in to de­liver an orchid and wish him well. He said that Sim, an en­gi­neer, had once built a he­li­copter for him.

The pa­tient praised the nurses: “I have been very well looked af­ter here.”


Theatre nurse Bar­bara Muh­len­beck, left, was on duty the day that pa­tient Brian Sim re­ceived his new heart 17 years ago. Also help­ing him cel­e­brate his birth­day and an­niver­sary yes­ter­day were his wife, Sharon, and car­dio­tho­racic unit man­ager Vanessa Pillay.

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