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.