Heart Health

13 January 2009

The Heart is Beautiful – Part 3

Is it simply too much to hope for a second miracle? You would if Trevor were your child.

Is it simply too much to hope for a second miracle? You would if Trevor were your child.

CyberShrink comments on the third episode of the series "The Heart is Beautiful", which is screened at 19h35 on M-Net on Thursday evenings. (Read his write-up of episode 1 here.)

The series follows the real-life story of the Gird family, whose daughter needs a heart transplant. Filmed in real time, the series covers the family's wait for a heart donor for their daughter Melanie, not knowing at the beginning whether it's going to happen or not. And then their son, Trevor, gets ill as well.

If you haven't become emotionally involved in this series yet, maybe it's your own heart that needs to be examined.

Young Trevor is declining unusually rapidly, for reasons the doctors can't explain. I think the long emotional stress of worrying about his sister's illness played a part.

Melanie is exultant in her new degree of health. Trevor describes her, approvingly, as "crazy now", adding: "I'm the boring one now". He looks increasingly bloated and red in the face, and quite unlike himself, except for his remarkable spirit. The family seem scared to hope for a second miracle.

Trevor's girlfriend makes an appearance
We discover young Trevor's girl-friend, Yolanda, and he declares his love for her. With a good mixture of denial and sense, he manages not to show fear to others, but wonders, "Am I going to have a life? Or go out?"

He knows there are possible problems in surgery, or post-op, or of rejection. His mother sadly reveals that while she prays for his health, she can't pray for a heart for him, because that would mean another family would have to lose a child.

Charmingly, some of his school chums have started a "New Heart for Trevor" campaign, and ride a cycle tour to raise funds and increase public awareness of the need for donations. He is driven along the route, getting out to applaud them as they pass. He is brought by the Reach for a Dream Foundation to a function to meet the South African cricket team, which is indeed a treat for him - though the only important dream right now, is for the availability of a suitable heart, in time.

Trevor's condition becomes critical
He describes Melanie, now working as she waits to start university, as "a hero for me". "On down days I look at her". He continues to decline, and will clearly die soon without a transplant. He admits to getting caught up in fears, and thoughts of "Why me? ", but says it "just makes it worse" to think in that way, rather than to concentrate positively "on what you still have".

The cardiac team had hoped to find a heart for him in three months, but it has now been over a year, and his time is definitively running out. One realises the patience the film-makers showed in order to follow this story where it went, and to share the anxiety and uncertainty of the long waiting period. It is sad to learn that apparently the system only gets around 20 to 25 hearts a year, many of which might not happen to be suitable for the waiting recipients most in need. And as his physical condition declines, the risk within and after the operation increases, too.

A heart is found
Then again, when the situation looks hopeless, there's a call to bring him to Cape Town - a heart has been found - in Joburg, not far from his home, but the operation must be in Cape Town. Fortunately a generous company has provided an executive jet to bring the family, and separately the heart, to the hospital in time.

What puzzles me is the high risk run as the ambulance carrying the heart struggles through thick afternoon traffic to reach an airport, even with the assistance of a police escort - why on earth couldn't a police helicopter have been used, at both ends? They spend so much time flitting unprofitably overhead; why couldn't they do some lifesaving for a change?

Time is running out, and the heart reaches the operating theatre just in time, carried, within a larger case, in a banal little lunch-box. It is encouragingly brightly coloured, red and yellow. Surgery proceeds, and then we see Trevor's discarded little heart beating away quietly in a metal dish, as the new one is inserted. Then he's wheeled into ICU, accompanied by the weird bleating of the respirator. Due to the delay, they want to pace his recovery slowly.

A new life
But as soon as he's awake, he wants to write messages and "commands" as his Dad says, before he can even speak. We watch him struggle to write: "Tell her I am awake and I love her very much". A message for his girlfriend, and reassuring proof that his brain is working well. Only fifteen days later, he can leave hospital, though the family stays for a while in a cottage by the beach, so as to remain near the hospital.

We start to learn about the donors. Melanie's heart came from a splendid young man, Tim, who died unexpectedly in an accident, when while helping people to move, wind forced a mattress off the bakkie he was riding in, and knocked him off it, causing severe brain damage. He was a delightful young man, keen to be a singer, and indeed a promising young rapper, as we hear. His grandmother says she is certain he would have been pleased to know he'd given life to someone else, especially to a young person. He is described by those who knew him as: "a deep boy, an old soul, and very special". The family say that they hold on to the thought that now someone else has life, and find that comforting.

(Professor MA Simpson, Health24, December 2008)

Copyright M. A. Simpson, 2008


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