Sam Tabone

SAM TABONE'S STORY

by MARY TABONE

Sam has been fairly healthy most of his life except for having four operations to remove stones from the right salivary gland (one of the glands that produce saliva in the mouth).

This was a constant problem because Sam would either have stones that cause infection and he would spend time in Cabrini hospital to be treated for the infection with intravenous antibiotics.

The last operation was in Sept 2007 and several stones were removed. After a couple of days, he started bleeding and he had to be urgently taken back into surgery - probably because of the Warfarin.

Sam's heart condition began in 1994 when Sam came back from an overseas trip and had put on a lot of weight and breathing had become a problem. A visit to his GP sent him to have a chest x-ray followed by a visit to a Cardiologist. Sam was diagnosed with cardiomiopathy. The specialist recommended a heart transplant. We could not believe this so we asked for a second opinion. Sam started seeing Dr Hammond, Mercy Hospital and for several years he kept on working taking several medications and Warfarin. In 2002 Sam's condition became worse with fluid retention and he had to be hospitalised several times. Dr Hammond recommended Sam to see another cardiologist, Dr Prior at St Vincent's. His recommendation was that Sam have a pacemaker/defibrillator implanted. Luckily the defibrillator was working well. We were at a party and Sam collapsed. We all panicked. The ambulance was called because his heart had stopped. The Ambulance attendant said that if he did not have the pacemaker/defibrillator, Sam would not be with us any longer. Sam was in and out of hospital for many years with his wife, Mary and children by his side.

It was obvious Sam's heart was failing. He was unable to work and walking any distance had become impossible. There were several other health issues. In Jan 2008 Dr Prior referred Sam to the Alfred. On the 31 Oct 2008 Sam collapsed at home and was unable to wake up for several minutes. Mary called the ambulance and stopped the bleeding where he hit his eyebrow when he collapsed. He was kept in hospital for 3 days and sent home. However, things only got worse and he went on to collapse another two times in three weeks. After several weeks in hospital with no improvement, Dr Prior sent Sam to the Alfred where he was admitted after spending all night in emergency. Sam did not respond to the treatments so an implant of the VentrAssist LVAD (a blood pump connected to the left ventricle of the diseased heart to help its pumping function) was the only option to save his life, with the hope of a heart transplant.

Sam was very sick and spent 5 weeks in ICU. It was awful for us as his family to see such a strong man wilt away. Each day when we would go and visit. For the first couple of weeks, it was so depressing to see Sam the way he was. Eventually, when he woke up, slow progress was made and we had hope. He had lost all his muscle strength in his legs and with daily physio to strengthen his muscles he slowly recovered. Thankfully, with the help of the amazing staff at the Alfred, Sam regained his strength and was placed on the Heart Transplant list in Feb 2009. That same month he came home after being in hospital for three and a half months.

31 August 2009 is a day our family will never forget! We received 'the call' from the Alfred and on the other end of the phone was Ann from the Alfred saying "We think we have found a heart for Sam"  and the roller coaster began. We were told to have Sam at the hospital by 10pm. All of us (Sam, Mary and their children) communicated by phone and met at the hospital. Our emotions were all up and down - as much as we wanted a transplant - it was still all very scary. We were all in shock, we had to wait and wait as there was a delay, we were altogether until 1:15am and then it happened - Sam was taken into the operating theatre about 3:30am on 1 September 2009 and then we knew the transplant was going ahead.

The surgeons had made contact with the donor's surgeons and confirmed that the donor heart was viable. It was a long night, an exhausting week but thankfully all worth it.

It's been a struggle but we Thank God for the donor and his family, the Doctors, nurses and staff at the Alfred because Sam would not have his life back, if it were not for all those wonderful people. Yes there are biopsies etc but it's better than the LVAD. The LVAD was a bridge to transplant. Even though they were hard times, it saved our Sam.

Sam is now on a mission. He wanted to give something back to the Aflred. He has organised a dinner dance on the 10 July 2010, where all profits will benefit the Heart & Lung transplant family. We hope the money can help others out there like it helped us...............