Fifty-two year old Wally Katzke from Meyersdal in Johannesburg crept into the hearts and homes of many South Africans on Saturday, 2 August 2008 when he became the first heart patient in the world to be televised undergoing open heart surgery live.
Now, the former cardiovascular patient is back on track with some ambitious "heart challenges" lined up for 2009, including climbing Mount Kilimanjaro during the year.
Wally volunteered to have his surgery broadcast live in August in a special SABC3 transmission of 3Talk with Noeleen, as a plea alongside the Heart & Stroke Foundation SA (HSFSA) to "wake up" South Africans to cardiovascular risks associated with unhealthy diet and lifestyle choices. Under the expert supervision of top cardiologists and thoracic surgeons, he survived the ordeal of having his chest cut open and his heart laid bare before millions of viewers.
Just three months later he has lived up to his promise, having made almost a full recovery and now more determined than ever not to waste his second chance at a new life.
Kilimanjaro a symbol of heart journey
In an interview, Wally revealed the goals he has set himself for 2009. He plans to cycle the Cape Argus Pick n Pay Cycle Tour in February and is keen to initiate a Wally’s Heart Walk around Johannesburg in March, all in preparation for his ultimate challenge – to climb and conquer Mount Kilimanjaro later that year.
Says Wally, "Kilimanjaro is symbolic of the journey I have embarked on with my heart. When I summit it, I will know in my heart that I've conquered cardiovascular disease forever."
"I've been training, gymming, cycling and walking about three to four times a week since my operation. I was actually very active until about 10 years ago when I started having heart trouble because of my various bad habits. I had even completed the Argus cycling race twice in the past," he said.
Since his final wake-up call and subsequent surgery, Wally’s new way of life has included healthy diet choices and exercise. These are simple but dramatic changes for the man who admitted he chain-smoked, loved nothing more than lots of red meat and did virtually no exercise. He has also been seeing a biokineticist.
He has nine months to prepare for the big challenge of reaching the top of the world’s highest free-standing mountain, which stands at an impressive 5.895m.
"It’s exciting stuff and I’m really looking forward to the challenge," he says. His enthusiasm has also inspired popular talk-show host, Noeleen Maholwana-Sangqu, who said climbing Kilimanjaro had been a life-long dream of hers and hoped she could attempt the climb with Wally in 2009.
Sean Disney of Adventure Dynamics, who has climbed Kilimanjaro nine times and will be leading Wally’s expedition in 2009, said the group would include around 20 people.
"Wally will be fully supported by a team of professionals and medical experts as they walk around 60 kilometres, or seven vertical kilometres, in seven days climbing, summiting and descending Killy, possibly in adverse weather conditions," he said.
"He does realise the immense preparation, determination and discipline this is going to take," said Disney.
Since Wally’s historical surgery broadcast, he has also been approached by many consumer brands looking to work with him on various projects, but has opted to go with heart-friendly margarine range, FLORA. The brand holds the HSFSA’s Gold Heart Mark Award for making a significant, sustainable contribution to educating and raising the profile of cardiovascular disease in South Africa, as well as offering benefits to reduce cardiovascular disease.
"Because I worked so closely with the HSFSA pre- and post-surgery, I was aware that FLORA was one of the products recommended by the Foundation," Wally says. "FLORA shares the same mission as me: to make South Africans' hearts healthier. I believe with their support behind me, we can make a difference to the lives of many South Africans and inspire them to take better care of their hearts. Together we will conquer Kilimanjaro."
Watch Wally on Monday, 17 November and Monday, 24 November on 3Talk with Noeleen on SABC3.
- (Simeka TWS Communications, November 2008)