Con Papas

(Heart Transplant 2007)
Con and Sia with daughter Angie and son-in-law Jim

Con, you were in The Alfred and had to be dragged along by your family to the Easter BBQ. It seemed to be a very different story for the Christmas BBQ when no-one could believe it was actually you standing there.

You had your HEART transplant in JANUARY. What has been happening since then?

I stayed at The Alfred for a few months after my Heart Transplant, as I had my leg amputated on the 26th of January. The Alfred Team did absolutely everything they could to save my leg, yet it was inevitable. Naturally it was not expected, yet in the same breath, I am here to share my story. This is the meaning of life. I cannot say it has been easy, yet determination got me this far and the same willpower has had me up and moving. Initially I was wheelchair bound. In fact, I learnt so much, the simple things we take for granted, and I was finding new ways to do them. This prepared me for independence, which means very much to me. At this stage, albeit with assistance from a walking frame on wheels, I am taking some serious steps, I am walking the block! I have made immense progress, if I do so say myself, I am certain many would agree. It has been my goal to walk by Christmas, meaning, walk unaided by then - I believe I will.

My stay at Caulfield Rehabilitation prepared me for home, a perfect process from leaving The Alfred (which may I add, was a mix of emotions, it had been home away from home, nursing me back to health with wonderful people, all for the same purpose and compassion) over to Caulfield, where it was difficult at the start, new challenges, new faces, next chapter - closer to going home.

A few more questions...

Birthplace: Greece
Marital Status: Married to my beautiful and ever so patient wife of 36 years Sia
Favourite Country: Australia
Favourite Places: Bermagui & Narooma, NSW
Favourite Food: Fish
Favourite Music: Country music
Hobbies: Shooting, fishing and snorkeling
Why did you need a Transplant? Cardiomyopathy
When was the Operation: 24th of January 2007
At what age? 59 and a half

Where were you when the 'call' came?

I was based at The Alfred, as I was too sick to go home. I was sound asleep, only to be woken gently by my dear Primary Nurse 'Daniela' around four or so in the morning. I recall automatically extending my arm for her, as it was routine at the time to take my blood (at certain hours of the day/night). I believe she said something along the lines of; "Comare (as we called each other) I do not need your arm, I have something better than that, something to tell you" I opened my eyes to look at her, unbeknown to what was to follow (it did not cross my mind that this was the 'call') as I looked at her, I noticed Sia standing next to her, looking at me. I said to Sia after glancing my eyes over the wall clock; "What are you doing here at this time of the morning?" Sia did not respond (I do not think she could at the time, she was obviously speechless, having received the call herself prior to my knowledge, whilst I lay in bed sleeping. I know I needed to rest, I was very sick). Daniela proceeded to say, from what I remember; "We may have what you have been waiting for for a long time" - this was so very true. I could not believe my ears. I looked around my room, out to the door, I saw all my children, smiling ear to ear back at me.

Who inspired you when you were young?

My Father. He was a true role model who showed me the meaning of respect and love for life. I even followed in his steps, sharing the same chosen career path, the construction industry. I will always treasure his mannerisms, being the gentleman that he was and his inspiring attitude as well as passion towards everything in life was brilliant. He was a man of strong faith with a very warm and friendly disposition and sincere, genuine kindness for all.

Who now?

The day of the Transplant Christmas BBQ, I discovered my biggest inspiration, Lyn - 21 years since her Transplant! A happy go lucky nature, a positive outlook and that gave me so much inspiration, such encouragement and fearlessness for the future ahead.

Most Memorable Moment of the Transplant Process?

I have many memorable moments, on the other hand, I do not remember as much as I wish I could have, perhaps that is a blessing in disguise. I will always remember the dedication from an amazing team of people who constantly looked afterme during very sick months, which I too, not intentionally, was a challenge. They never gave up on me. These are the people of The Alfred Hospital. My family will always love and care for me, yet The Alfred became my family, our family, and pardon the pun, forever in my heart. As a family, we still recall moments, these are the fondest memories of where I was, to where I am, knowing I am fortunate for the 'gift' of life, because of a compassionate humanitarian, their family and The Alfred family, which now includes new friends from the Circulator. We have shared and will continue to share many more memorable moments, thankful to be doing so, indeed. Further to the abovementioned, my MOST memorable moment would have to be waking up and realizing I was in ICU. Then confirming, I had received the greatest 'gift' from a philanthropic donor - their heart, beating for me, I survived, and I am alive. This is the 'most memorable moment' Life is so very precious, as are those who give to others to continue on the memories with family, friends and to live life again.

Funny/embarrassing moment of the Transplant process?

'Hoist' moments!! Having to be hoisted, which I very much appreciated the process and time it took in coordinating me from my bed onto the portable (chair) toilet, yet in order for this to occur, I had to be prepared for the 'nature call', hence no underwear! I know they have seen it all, regardless, certainly not my proudest moment/s.

Priceless memory?

All of my journey and experiences are 'priceless memories'. Certainly commencing with the 'call', understandably, the quiet moment whilst preparing for theatre for my Transplant, the thoughts that circled my mind and I had no words. Waking up, to discover it was not a visit to ICU, it was the ICU stay I had been hoping for. 'Priceless' was going home, to be in my home, sweet home, and looking forward to the future. There are many priceless memories. The Alfred people I will forever have in the highest regards. From the cleaners, all the way through to the nurses, doctors, and surgeons that I saw every day, to keep me as well as possible, including those who would cross my path from ICU after I had been in and out, back in and happily out with a heart. Unfortunately, I cannot say my 'memory' of the food is 'priceless! ' well I did spend a very long time at The Alfred - it makes my daughter's cooking brilliant (which I assure you, it is not). I celebrated my 60th Birthday!! Although I do not feel a day over 30! I wish! I have been able to alter my ways, from things I have learnt, to do so much on my own. I garden with my wife, I play with the dogs, actually, they stay put and I pat them with my other leg (laughing). I have my grandchildren entertain me, I am watching them grow, which gives me a feeling beyond words. I am surrounded by my children, a little too much at times (laughing again) and many friends. I may not be driving, but I do leave the house and visit friends and even go out to cafes/restaurants on occasion. There are very few limitations to what I can do. I plan that after my 1st Transplant Birthday, my wife and I will travel to see other friends in Adelaide and over to Mildura, because we can. One day, I would like to travel Australia, it is my dream, and I shall follow it. I am making plans. This is what I hoped for. Not the other talk. This picture is so much bigger and the future even brighter. Christmas, I will be the chef. My BBQ, my secret herbs and spices, my serving up - kiss the cook.

Finally, can you tell us a little about your life before you found out you would need a transplant?

Well before I went down the transplant path, I was very active, both at work, which I loved as well as with my hobbies. My wife and I (kids have all grown up and in their own homes) would drive to the beachside, an hour away from home, spend time with friends, I would go fishing, and do it all again the following weekend. As time went on, this became less and less of what our weekends consisted of, I became weaker than what my mind believed, which resulted in regular stays in hospital, every few months or so. I continued to work, until an event pertaining to my heart occurred, in which I was forced to retire. At that stage, I was not aware that I would need a transplant. Given I was not working and doing my best to enjoy life with my wife, family and friends, I deteriorated. Slowly. Then I became more and more sick. After being hospitalized yet again, my cardiologist at the time introduced Dr Bergin to me. When I was back on my feet, process commenced. I just did not quite make it to the transplant list initially on time as I became very, very sick. I was fortunate enough to have a Ventrassist. I am ever to appreciate of the assistance the VAD gave me. I also had some serious moments, not related to the VAD, with my natural heart. I had a heart attack whilst in an induced coma, in ICU, where I may not know the details and ramifications of this, yet I know enough that I will always and forever be grateful for The Alfred people that, well, that have me here today. I was on the heart and lung (ECMO) bypass machine. To cut a long story short. I made it, obviously. I also made it on the Transplant list. I did not manage to live at home at any time, although I was fortunate enough to visit on a couple of occasions. I did stay at The Alfred, as I was not getting better, or should I say, staying stable. My pacemaker/defibrillator would do funny things (lack of better words) an indication of a failing heart, I was constantly cared for, looked after and even laughed on the rare occasion. Only a couple or few weeks prior to the transplant, my heart, well, it was not good, not at all. Rather than pausing there, I can say this, the 'gift' arrived just in time, and I trust my opinion to be true and correct. Life before was a total contrast.

I am elated to be living life with having 'The Gift', the greatest present, a future, my Heart Transplant. (Heartfelt thanks for wanting to know my story, I feel honoured).