Saved by a heart in a box

Sharareh Ah­madzadeh ig­nored what she thought was a bad cold un­til doc­tors dis­cov­ered she was dy­ing and needed a heart trans­plant – but where would she find one and how would it reach her?

Friday - - Inside -

At first it was a tickle at the back of my throat. Then it be­came a cough and fi­nally, when I thought I might have to do some­thing about it, it had al­ready be­come a bark. “It’s a sign I’m get­ting old,” I joked to Mum, shiv­er­ing as I walked into her place.

I’d been trav­el­ling the world off and on for seven years and thought this was just a bad cold I’d picked up dur­ing a stay in Croa­tia. “A few weeks at home and I’ll be fine,” I in­sisted, glad to be back in Perth, Western Aus­tralia.

But a month later I still felt rough. “I’ll go to the doc if it doesn’t go in the next cou­ple of days,” I told Mum, but the next day my stom­ach was swollen and sore. It grew worse un­til I was in agony and could hardly breathe.

Mum took one look at me and de­cided she wasn’t go­ing to lis­ten to my protests any more. “No mess­ing, we’re go­ing straight to hos­pi­tal,” she in­sisted, bundling me into the car.

I was ad­mit­ted to Charles Gaird­ner Hos­pi­tal where medics ran a se­ries of tests and hooked me up to myr­iad ma­chines.

The doc­tor looked se­ri­ous when he came back with my re­sults. “You’ve got a heart mur­mur,” he said as fear rushed through me. I’d been ex­pect­ing a sus­pected ap­pen­dici­tis or stom­ach flu – cer­tainly not this. Mum squeezed my hand as I was taken for an ECG – a test that mea­sures the elec­tri­cal ac­tiv­ity of the heart. It showed an ab­nor­mal heart rhythm and a chest X-ray re­vealed that my heart was en­larged.

“I can’t be­lieve this,” Mum gasped. Nei­ther could I. How could what I thought was a bad cold be a heart prob­lem? I was only 28, fit and healthy with plans to be­come a teacher and see even more of the world.

Ter­ror thud­ded in­side me as I bom­barded ev­ery­one with ques­tions. The doc­tor ex­plained I had a con­di­tion called dilated car­diomy­opa­thy. It ba­si­cally meant my heart was en­larged, weak and wasn’t pump­ing blood as well as it should, which is why my stom­ach had be­come bloated and sore. “It’s a se­ri­ous con­di­tion,” the doc­tor said, “but with med­i­ca­tion you can lead a nor­mal life.” I smiled, re­lieved.

Then the doc­tor men­tioned that the con­di­tion could have been sparked by a virus at­tack­ing the heart. Im­me­di­ately I thought of my lin­ger­ing Croa­t­ian cold. “That could be the cause,” my doc­tor nod­ded.

“Thank good­ness you were here when this hap­pened,” Mum said. “You could have been alone, over­seas.” I grabbed her hand, grate­ful she’d in­sisted on bring­ing me in.

Luck­ily, I didn’t have to stay in hos­pi­tal. The doc­tor pre­scribed a four-week course of med­i­ca­tion and told me to rest. I soon felt bet­ter, and was even well enough to go back to col­lege – I was tak­ing a post-grad­u­ate diploma in ed­u­ca­tion at Curtin Univer­sity, Perth.

Three weeks of tests

I as­sumed I was fine un­til I went for my work ex­pe­ri­ence place­ment in a school in­Western Aus­tralia four months later. I quickly be­came tired and my stom­ach be­gan to bloat. “Oh no,” I thought. “My heart must be play­ing up again.”

I was rushed back to hos­pi­tal be­fore be­ing trans­ferred to the Royal Perth Hos­pi­tal’s ad­vanced heart fail­ure team in the coro­nary care unit. Of course, I was wor­ried but I thought a change in med­i­ca­tion would sort things out.

Af­ter three weeks of tests my spe­cial­ist told me my con­di­tion had sig­nif­i­cantly wors­ened. “One of your heart valves is not work­ing

Sharareh loves trav­el­ling and the great out­doors

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