Andrew Hunt - Not ready for the rocking chair

Pounding away on the treadmill at my local gym in Adelaide with the Eagles singing “It’s too easy not to care and you’re not ready for the rocking chair, get up and do something”. I recall it wasn’t that long ago I was doing the same thing in the Alfred Hospital gym in Melbourne. However, instead of the well crafted harmonies of the Eagles to inspire me it was Lou saying “Andrew keep those shoulders straight” and “don’t look so pained!”

So as I pound away reflecting on the events of the last few months the enormity of what has happened really starts to sink in. My health had deteriorated considerably after battling cardiomyopathy for a number of years. By the latter stages of 2007 and early 2008, I was about to by-pass the rocking chair completely.

After experiencing multiple hospitalizations at the Flinders Medical Centre, recurrent Ventricular Tachycardia (VT), a number of life-saving defribillations, atrial fibrillation, cardio-versions, several pacemaker operations, ECGs, echos, right-heart catheters, electronic physiology studies, angiograms, gated blood pool scans and the intravenous administration of various cardiac drugs, the time had come for a Left Ventricular Assist Device (LVAD) to be implanted to keep me going until a donor heart became available.

Following a ‘false start’ during December 2007 it was off to The Alfred on 29 January 2008 to talk about the LVAD. The day started like most days with me struggling through my meager breakfast of toast and juice and forcing down my much dreaded amiodarone. My partner Dana, wheel-chaired me the short distance from the Saville Hotel to the hospital where we spent the morning discussing LVADs. It was a miserable time for all three of us, Dana’s Mum having come along for much needed moral support. Even the wheel chair decided to get a puncture on our way back to the Saville and to make things worse. I had already made major inroads into my daily fluid allowance of 1.5 litres! Oh well, not to worry because within minutes my life was about to change forever.

Having been called back to the Alfred we were informed an LVAD was no longer required as a donor heart had become available. With the wheel chair quickly forgiven and mobile phones buzzing, it was all systems go!

Next I recall an enthusiastic voice saying “Andrew, everything went really well and the surgeons are happy”. Surgeons – what surgeons – don’t they cut people open – where am I – what’s happened to me? Laying in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) adorned with all manner of medical apparatus known to mankind. I soon recall what has happened. After a short stay in ICU, I’m off to 3CTC where I spend much time gazing out of the window at the contorted figures sculptured by steam rising from the hospital generators.

As these strange and disturbing shapes vanish quickly in the atmosphere, I realise that I have a lot of healing to do.

My research of the “Orange Manual” had revealed that steroids may cause mood and sleep disturbances. However, I had no idea of what was really coming my way as tears were to flow freely while my life was examined over and over with all the joy, regret and guilt such nostalgia brings. As things progressed our routine became a continuing round of clinic visits, education and carer sessions, biopsies, gym sessions and all sorts of cardiac investigations.

Dana and I were to meet many other transplant recipients and their hard working carers. Most of us were staying at the Quest on Punt Road just a few minutes walk from the hospital so we were able to be of support to one another. (You know, compare how the Cyclosporin and steroids were affecting us and what was your biopsy like today?) . Dana would often go off with “the girls” while I went to gym or slept in front of the TV – two things I became most proficient at!

As time passed we forged new friendships, got to view a bit of Melbourne and surrounds, go to the “39 Steps” at the Arts Centre, catch a glimpse of “Richo” training at the MCG, visit Rex Hunt’s Fish & Chippery at Port Melbourne (only twice – dinkum!) to recall just a few fond memories.

Of the many fond memories we now have it will be the words “Andrew, we have a heart for you” that we will never forget. Also, we will never forget the amazing Professor Esmore and all the wonderfully professional staff who have cared for me both before and after my transplant.

Meanwhile, here in Adelaide and still pounding away on the treadmill with my sternotomy fading, steroid driven appetite biting and with VT collapses, 1.5 litre fluid restrictions and amiodarone becoming distant memories, I ponder what the future holds but one thing is for sure – the Eagles are right – I’m not ready for the rocking chair!

Andrew Hunt

Heart Transplant Recipient 29/1/08

I’d like to dedicate this short piece to my partner Dana who has supported me during all my years of heart failure; my parents and my two sons, Todd and Adam; all the members of my extended family; all donor families across Australia; all the staff who have cared for me both before and after my transplant; all other transplant recipients and their tireless carers; all those who are on the list awaiting a donor organ; all those people currently being “worked-up” to go onto the list; my many friends and associates and to all those people suffering illness – our thoughts and prayers are always with you.