TWO STRONG HEARTS

Don’t miss the un­for­get­table story ory of two men who forged an in­cred­i­ble friend­ship when one of them do­nated his heart to the other

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - - NEWS - JANE HANSEN

THEY were strangers on the same hos­pi­tal ward and they were both dy­ing. But Ge­of­frey Ni­co­las and Mathias Ro­gala-Koc­zorowski would not only live, they would be­come life­long friends, for­ever linked by a shared heart.

In a re­mark­able story of hu­man sur­vival and med­i­cal ad­vance­ment, the two men were in­volved in a rare “domino” heart trans­plant that left one with the other’s heart beat­ing in his chest.

The pair were brought to­gether at St Vin­cent’s Hos­pi­tal in cen­tral Syd­ney last year be­cause Mr Ni­co­las, a 36-year-old cys­tic fi­bro­sis suf­ferer, needed new lungs. As his heart had grown into the cav­ity where his de­stroyed left lung should have been, it was de­cided he would need a heart and lung trans­plant to­gether.

“My left lung col­lapsed eight years ago and my heart grew into the cav­ity and the right lung in­flated to take up the strain, so the only way me­chan­i­cally to fit two lungs in was to take out the whole block, as they call it, out,” he said. “But there was noth­ing wrong with my heart.”

The chef from Dubbo spent 20 fear­ful months on the wait­ing list. When one fi­nally came, it was not only a price­less gift for him but also for the man across the ICU ward whose time was also nearly up — Mr Ro­gala-Koc­zorowski.

A ge­netic de­fect the for­mer or­ches­tral horn player was born with had taken its toll on his heart. In 2014, he was given just two years to live and was placed on the heart trans­plant list in Jan­uary 2015. He was six months past his prog­no­sis last win­ter when Mr Ni­co­las came along. “You want that trans­plant to move on with your life but to do so you are kind of wish­ing mis­for­tune on an­other per­son, it’s a ter­ri­ble dilemma, but my donor is still alive. It’s a mir­a­cle,” Mr Ro­gala-Koc­zorowski said.

At 64, he was more than thrilled to get the heart of a man al­most half his age. “I was very pleased, I’ve done well and I got a good bar­gain and the most won­der­ful thing is that no one had to die for my ben­e­fit,” the Dul­wich Hill man said.

Not for a minute dur­ing his long wait how­ever did Mr Ro­gala-Koc­zorowski think he would ac­tu­ally meet his liv­ing donor. There are strict pri­vacy pro­to­cols around donors and re­cip­i­ents but the two men were in the same room to­gether post­surgery dur­ing re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion and Mr Ro­gala-Koc­zorowski felt the need to ac­knowl­edge the gift.

“We were sen­si­tive about breach­ing pro­to­col but we’d be in the same room, it felt awk­ward, and my wife and I ap­proached the so­cial worker and she made in­quiries and they were fine with it,” he said. “The next time we were in the wait­ing room at the heart lung clinic I in­tro­duced my­self. I stood up and gave him a hug and told him how grate­ful I was. I had a tear and I was aware it might be weird for him to have some­one bear­ing an or­gan of his.”

“He was very emo­tional,” Mr Ni­co­las said. “But I feel like some­one saved my life and he is the prod­uct of that as well. I’m grate­ful for what I have re­ceived but I don’t feel I have done any­thing spe­cial.”

Trans­plant sur­geon Dr Paul Janz said the domino heart trans­plant was very rare and his unit per­formed only one ev­ery four to five years. In fact over the past 22 years, only 37 such pro­ce­dures have been per­formed Aus­tralia-wide, 12 of which have hap­pened in NSW.

“Most of the time some­one need­ing a heart and lung trans­plant, their heart is fail­ing and not “us­able”, but this is won­der­ful, as is all trans­plan­ta­tion,” he said. “It’s a strange feel­ing see­ing a pa­tient sit­ting next to some­one who has just given them their heart.” Both men keep in touch and even their wives are now friends.

Mathias Ro­go­laKoc­zorowski af­ter get­ting a

new heart from Ge­of­frey

Ni­co­las. Pic­ture: Sam

Rut­tyn

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