John Bisiach

Age: 54 years young

Family: Married to Sue, Two adult ‘boys’, Jonathan and David

Medical History: Heart attack 1 Nov 2002 in Darwin

Evacuated to the Alfred morning of Melbourne Cup

Unsuccessful Stent, Double Bypass.

Very successful Heart Transplant late Dec 2002.

Recovery included intensive in-patient physiotherapy at Caulfield.

Occupation: Business Development Manager, Telstra Country Wide, Northern Territory.

Interest: Fishing, Red Wine, Cooking, most sports, family and friends.

Memorable Moments: Too many to single out. I learnt more about myself, what is truly important and what is not. The power of other people in a crisis..


Why ‘Darwin” John? Well that was so we didn’t get him mixed up with another John! Our group was made up of a dozen, (no-not ALL Johns!) who have recently passed their first anniversary.

John Bisiach amazed me when I heard he and his wife Sue were going to drive their 4 wheel vehicle back to Darwin after his 16 week post-transplantation commitment (his was a little longer than normal) at The Alfred in April 2003.Then he astounded me again just recently when they drove down to visit his family in Adelaide, spend Christmas in Melbourne with their sons, and then they especially wanted to visit everyone at the Transplant Unit and Caulfield Hospital. So much for those of us who live in metropolitan Melbourne just having to worry about the drive down Punt Road!

My husband Ross and I were lucky to catch up with John and Sue over dinner. We recalled our experiences, the wonderful work of the hospital staff, the ‘fun’ times at the gym, the good coffee at Alf’s Café, the friendships we had made, and of course the medication we now took. At 11 o’clock Ross asked whether I had taken my medication. John and I had both forgotten!

On the question of ‘Do you remember any funny or embarrassing thing during transplantation?' (for print purposes) His answer I now know would be “Too embarrassing, ask Sue”!!!!

Being from the Northern Territory John’s story was different in that he was transported from Darwin to the Alfred in a critical condition after a totally unexpected heart attack, and spent some 8 weeks in ICU before his gift of a donor heart came along. “The best Christmas present I have ever, or am ever likely to receive”, as he put it.

The following is an excerpt from some of John’s memoirs on his time since the heart attack. He says he is writing these stories as an “exorcism” and to remind himself of the things that are really important. The focus of this passage is his fifth week in the Alfred ICU in December 2002.

(Gaylynn Pinniger-Assisant Secretary.)


You know those cloudy, dull, grey days which threaten a spectacular rainstorm followed by those magic slivers of filtered sunshine peeking through a black sky? When I was a kid I used to think that it was GOD looking through the clouds.

I now think those days are put there as a reminder of how alive you can be when your senses are truly in focus - sharp, agonizing, delicious, immediate. When seconds become minutes, minutes become hours. When the smallest thing becomes important. When clarity is forever.

Why isn’t it like that all the time? Why is it that most of the time we just don’t seem to notice? Why does it take a crisis?

My time in Intensive Care was like that. Mostly a strange pervading cloudy grey, with frequent storms and only an odd passing glimpse of sunshine. I can’t remember it all, but I noticed. In the smallest detail.

Before the double bypass, I can only remember snippets of Royal Darwin and the weeks at the Alfred ICU that followed - like the time when I woke up on a ‘high’ after the stent doing Monty Python amongst other things, but that’s another story in itself.

That time is marked by vivid dreams and partial fleeting recognition. It was a time for building safe refuges to flee to, and strong anchors to pull me back.

It was only afterwards, when I was ‘awake’ for longer periods, that I remember more.

Despite a series of further collapses before the donor heart came along, I had enough lucid moments to remember the events from early December right through to the Xmas/New Year week.

I used to think of Intensive Care as a controlled, quiet and respectful place but it’s not like that at all!

It’s noisy.

Alarms going off everywhere, the sound of one-on-one nursing - my Mob of Angels as I used to call them - sympathizing, cajoling, yelling, willing life back into ‘almost corpses’ connected by wires and tubes to gadgets into and out of bottles and plastic bags containing miracle fluids - some our own.

It’s timeless.

Hard to tell night from day, lights on all the time. A sameness, air-conditioning replaces a breeze, shade, sun and rain. Checks and routines repeated – again and again and again......“Hello I’m .....its change of shift time......” “Just wiggle your toes for me - do they feel cold?......” “Sugar levels - now which finger haven’t we mangled?...... ” “Can you remember what day it is?.......” “Blood pressure.......” “I’m just going to shine this light in you eyes........”

Its organized chaos.

Floor polishing, cleaning noises....... “Morning blood tests – how are you this morning......” “Have X-Ray been?....... ” “Bed count please – need more beds - major accident at....... ” Loudspeaker – “Code Blue Ward 1A, paging.......” “Check the cupboard otherwise need to go to Pharmacy...... ” “Have you updated the journal......”

I think about my “My Mob of Angels” a lot. Michelle, Larry, Tanil, Daryl, Pepita and the Xmas present, Sharon, little Melissa who did so much, Nat, Carolyn, Claire who loaned me the little “squeeze ball” heart and the many others........

I don’t even know or remember all their names but I will never forget their faces, their voices, their care........

Eight weeks is a long time.

Their images are tattooed into me. Permanent and sharp, like my fishing knife.


It took me about a week to wake up after the bypass. I thought it was the 5th November but the nurse said it was the 2nd December. I remembered the 4th of December-and my wedding anniversary – 30th no 31st – and Jonno’s birthday.

I remembered.............

I felt heavy, tied down almost, unable to move but that was just the effect of being in bed for so long – muscles unused and wasted away.

I could not speak and my throat was parched, like the morning after, minus the headache. Then I recognised the breathing apparatus, the hole in my throat, feeding tubes etc, etc.

And new scars on my left forearm, right lower leg and down my sternum.

I did not feel any pain – not physically anyway.

I should be welcoming the storms and the early monsoon rains. I should be smelling the frangipani in the warm moist air.

I should be tasting the last of the mango from the Thai women at Rapid Creek. I should be home, with you..........

Darwin felt a million miles away.

Sue had returned to tidy up our affairs at home and prepare for a move to Melbourne and a possible stay of up to 12 months. And then she called - her normal two or three times a day routine. A two-way conversation with the nurse with me listening in.

He woke up. Yes he is awake now. He can’t talk but he is listening. Sue sends her love.

She says is going to send you a fax. Is there anything you want me to tell her? Jonno’s coming in later and Bob might pop in.

Funny the things you take for granted - like talking or failing that, writing. Mime and facial expressions only go so far - particularly on the phone - although I must admit the nurses were exceptional lip readers. They also used a ‘cheat sheet’ which had pictures for frequently used commands, as well as an alphabet which you could point to.

Could never find this phrase though - you are the centre of my universe, you are a long way away, I remain close but I miss you - my short versions lacked a lot in translation.

I tried writing but could barely write one letter on a full size sheet of paper and worse needed and hours sleep afterwards to recover from the effort. I worked at it for the next day or so and the Physio gave me some exercises to do to control my movements and coordinate the messages sent by my brain.

Finally, early in the hours of the morning of the 4th, amongst the discarded attempts, I viewed my masterpiece. It was written on the clean side of a used A4 sheet of Alfred paper. It consisted of one symbol and five letters.

Three trembling words per line written with a large felt pen, more a whiteboard marker than a pen.

I felt satisfied. When Sue called that morning the nurse read the words to her over the phone and then faxed the page to Darwin. Not much else was said. Jonno called in later, we held hands and I wished him a happy birthday.

It was good to see the sunshine for a little while. It was a good day.

Twelve months later I used the same three words in the NT News Classifieds.

Those three words conveyed all I ever wanted say that first time.

They are still all I need now.

John Bisaich. March 2004.