Faces of Tamworth: Fiona Coote

PICTURE OF HEALTH: Former Manilla resident Fiona Coote marked 30 years since her first heart
transplant at St Vincent’s Hospital this week. Pictured with Associate Professor Phillip Spratt, the pair cut a heart-shaped cake to celebrate the anniversary. Photo: Anthony Johnson
PICTURE OF HEALTH: Former Manilla resident Fiona Coote marked 30 years since her first heart transplant at St Vincent’s Hospital this week. Pictured with Associate Professor Phillip Spratt, the pair cut a heart-shaped cake to celebrate the anniversary. Photo: Anthony Johnson

Our Faces of Tamworth list could hardly be complete without Fiona Coote – especially in the week the federal government committed to developing a Childhood Heart Disease National Action Plan jointly with HeartKids. Born and bred in Manilla and later a Tamworth resident, Ms Coote was the youngest heart transplant recipient, and only the fourth ever, in the nation when renowned surgeon Dr Victor Change performed the surgery. Just 14 years old, complications from a bout of tonsilitis had weakened her heart. About two years after the first, Ms Coote had another heart transplant because the first began to fail. Throughout her years since, Ms Coote has generously shared her time and story to advance many causes. Here, we look back to 2014, when Ms Coote marked 30 years since her first transplant gave her another chance in life.

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.

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“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 Northern Daily Leader

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