Former Manilla girl ticks off 30 years’ life with a new heart

FORMER Manilla girl Fiona Coote has marked the 30th anniversary of her first heart transplant with a visit back to the hospital that saved her life.

The late Victor Chang led the St Vincent’s Hospital team that performed the surgery in April 1984, making Fiona, 14 at the time, the youngest Australian to receive a new heart.

Now 44, she is the longest-surviving heart transplant recipient in the southern hemisphere.

She went back to St Vincent’s this week to mark the milestone, meeting members of the transplant team who undertook her historic surgery, including Phillip Spratt, a surgeon on Ms Coote’s original transplant team and now director of St Vincent’s heart lung transplant unit.

The hospital’s transplant unit has performed more than 870 heart, 763 lung and 84 combined heart-lung transplants in the past 30 years.

Ms Coote, now living in Hobart and working as a fundraiser for the mental health charity beyondblue, describes the past three decades for her as a gift.

“It’s brilliant, not only for me but for the hospital,’’ she said this week. 

“They never expected a result like this and neither did I.’’

Faced with heart failure resulting from complications brought about by viral-induced tonsillitis, Ms Coote underwent her first transplant on April 8, 1984. 

After her body rejected the first heart, she went in for a second transplant in 1986.

“I am remarkably well but I really do look after myself,’’ Ms Coote said. 

“I value my health and I enjoy life.”

 Transplants though may soon become a thing of the past, Dr Spratt saying this week that technological advances in artificial heart pumps would make transplant surgery redundant.

Almost 40 per cent of patients at the hospital’s heart-lung transplant unit have the devices implanted, which keep them alive for years, in some cases until they undergo surgery.

“No transplant program will ever be able to treat all the people who are suffering or in ill-health,’’ Dr Spratt said.

“The real hope is that we put these pumps into patients as a final form of therapy, not just to keep them alive until they undergo transplantation.’’

Known as a continuous-flow pump, the device is a small spinning rotor suspended between two magnetic fields. It sucks the blood into the heart and then pumps it out.

The newer pumps are about the size of a 50¢ piece and have a small electric cord that runs out of the patient’s abdomen and connects with a battery pack worn under their clothes.

–The Sydney Morning Herald and The Leader

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