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?
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