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
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