“By sharing my story I hope others see the difference organ donation makes.
“I had my heart and lung transplant on June 26, 1992.
“Until May 1991, I was completely unaware that I was sick. I just thought I was unfit. I put it down to a back injury ten years earlier.
Richard was 30 years old, an interior designer working in West Perth, with most of his clients within walking distance on St Georges Terrace.
“I would walk to appointments and meetings, up and down the stairs at the office for exercise. About three months in I started catching the free buses because I couldn’t walk the distance. Time went on and I got to the point where I just couldn’t get up the stairs. I would stop half way and pant. People would ask if I was ok and I’d always say that I was fine. I didn’t take any notice of what was happening until one day when I was at home in the garden. All of a sudden I got light-headed. That’s when I knew something was wrong and I needed to get checked out.”
His local doctor ordered blood tests but did not discover anything. A week later, Richard’s son fell ill and was taken to hospital. Richard was feeling unwell but put his health aside to worry for his son. Two days later, he returned to work, tired and exhausted, so he went to a cardiologist for an ultrasound test. The doctor said:
“I’ve got two lots of news – one good and one bad. Which one do you want first?”
“The bad news,” I said.
“The worst case scenario for you is that you will probably have another three months to live.”
“What?” I said.
He explained my condition – primary pulmonary hypertension.
“So, what was the good news?” I asked.
“We might be able to extend those three months to six with medication,” he responded. “But we need to do more tests straight away.”
Richard was admitted to Royal Perth Hospital and his diagnosis was confirmed that night by an angiogram. When he came to me and told me the situation I was very numb, very, very numb. The first thing that went through my head was…
“What have I actually lived for? I’m 30-years-old and what have I done?”
Richard worried that he had achieved nothing in his life and wanted to live for his son, who was five-months old at the time.
“Close friends and family came to visit me in the hospital that night and I just couldn’t tell my father what was going on. A lot of thoughts went through my head that night and I was very concerned about the people I would leave behind. It was this that affected me more than anything else. In the end I left it to the Almighty and believed that what would be would be. That was the only way I could look at it and from that time onward I kept that focus.
“Til this day that is what kept me going, as well as my son Ricky who was my little inspiration.
Richard was listed for a transplant in Melbourne. “I remember being at home trying to breathe. I couldn’t sit, sleep or lie down without struggling. I couldn’t shower. I couldn’t put on my own shoes and socks without feeling totally exhausted. It was the simple things that I had taken for granted. I had three days to prepare myself before they flew me to Melbourne.”
He arrived in Melbourne with a wheelchair, oxygen tank and a doctor by his side. He was taken to the Alfred Hospital.
“That was when it hit me. I was enclosed by four gloomy walls. Back at home I had family and friends around which meant I was ok, psychologically anyway. At the Alfred, I realised the severity of the situation and got bogged down with the thought “This is it!”
Three days later, with his health declining, Richard was taken into intensive care. After a statewide call for organs, a donor was found on the 10th day.
The transplant process started on June 26, with complications. “While the doctors were taking my organs out and preparing me for the new organs, my heart stopped. Doctors tried to get my heart going again, twice without success. I can appreciate the doctors didn’t want to waste the donated organs. They went back into surgery and both my anaesthetist and surgeon decided to give it another go. To my benefit they were able to get my heart started again and the transplant was a success. To this day whenever I see my surgeon or anaesthetist they say: “This was the guy we had to toss a coin for. Lucky for him it landed on the edge.”
Richard spent a week in intensive care before being transferred to the ward for three months. “When I came out of hospital, I was still pretty bad but what inspired me most was seeing Ricky walk for the first time at 11 months. That kept me going and gave me something to live for.”
He returned to Perth and tried to get back to his normal life as a father, partner and interior decorator.
“My main concern was holding a pen again because the drugs caused hand tremors. I lasted about a month. So I decided to work from home at my own pace, doing design work on contract and starting a distribution business buying and selling skin products.”
His five-year marriage ended and he became sole carer for his son. He has tried to live as normal life as possible and invested a lot of time in travelling to Asia. He remarried in 2006.
“I learnt to appreciate life a lot more not only because of my transplant but because I realise how fortunate and lucky I am compared to most people.
He tried to contact his donor family on the tenth anniversary of his transplant, writing a thankyou card. He got no response.
“I understand and respect their privacy. Sometimes families do not want to be contacted because they are trying to put the past in the past. At the same time there isn’t a moment or a day that goes by without me being grateful for their selfless gift.”