THE YOUNG Rosary College school student who went on to make medical history in Australia 31 years ago and become the country’s sweetheart is a special guest for International Women’s Day in Tamworth this week.
At 14, Fiona Coote became Australia’s youngest heart transplant recipient when the legendary Dr Vincent Chang operated on the girl from Manilla at St Vincent’s Hospital in Sydney.
She’d been just another kid in class a couple of days before being suddenly struck down and becoming gravely ill from what was then reported as viral-induced tonsillitis.
For locals there was an agonising week where they became familiar with the word cardiomyopathy – the disease where the heart doesn’t pump like it should.
The outlook was desperate – the only hope was a transplant.
Fiona made headlines around the country – and in Tamworth a city prayed alongside the 750 Rosary students.
A lengthy operation led by heart surgeon Dr Victor Chang late on Sunday, April 8, 1984 gave everyone new hope.
In the days before social media and instant updates, the traditional hometown media of newspapers, radio and television reported the heart warming news of “their” heroine daily for weeks.
Four years later Fiona was to undergo a second transplant under the same medical team.
Today, the teenager is a wonderful ambassador for DonateLife, the national organ and tissue donation program.
She’s 45 and while not the shy young kid anymore, she’s a wonderful woman with a heart of gold, a compassionate and caring nature, and a generous and decidedly grounded girl.
The Tamworth women’s group Zonta is delighted to have Fiona Coote as their special guest this year.
She lives in Tasmania these days but is back to take centre stage of the Zonta International Women’s Day evening this Friday, March 6.
“Fiona is a member of the board of directors of beyondblue and an ambassador for DonateLife, the national organ and tissue donation program,” club president Lesley Nixon said.
“She also supports the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute, the St Vincent’s Hospital Heart-Lung Transplant team, and other charities.”
Ms Nixon said Fiona was committed to supporting mental health sufferers and their families in cardiac medicine, and also the Gynaecological Cancer Foundation, which raises the awareness, and funds research for the prevention, detection and treatment of gynaecological cancers in Australia.
“Fiona enjoys a wonderful quality of life and mostly good health. She now lives in Hobart and loves the change from Sydney.”
Ms Nixon put Fiona on her radar for this event last year when she first became president and she said Fiona was delighted at the invitation.
Like others, Ms Nixon can well remember the shockingness of the 1984 events – supporting her brother’s Rotary fundraising efforts as well in those early days after the transplant and having Manilla family connections too.
Tickets for the Fiona night are just $30 and available at New England Mutual, 356 Peel St Tamworth, 168 Manilla St, Manilla and The Coffee Club, Shoppingworld.
“Zonta International is a leading global organisation of professionals empowering women worldwide through service and advocacy,” Ms Nixon said.
“We envision a world in which women’s rights are recognised as human rights and every woman is able to achieve her full potential.
“Fiona is a great role model for women and we’re absolutely delighted that she is going to be our guest.”
The function starts at 6.30pm on Friday.
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