I recently saw a documentary on television, featuring my former heart transplant patient Daisy, who had survived an impressive 26 years after the transplant, making her the longest female heart transplant survivor in Singapore. From the programme, I learnt that she had died in March 2017. Her story was special as she had beaten all odds to survive. She had met a traffic accident and her right leg had to be amputated. Then a virus attacked her heart not long after, and she found out she had to undergo a heart transplant. Her donor was a military personnel and a young person. His mother gave consent at the very last minute to donate his organs. Daisy successfully completed the battery of tests for a compatible match with the donor. She endured the seven hours of surgery and was placed in intensive care. After a few months of rehabilitation she still had to remember to take her anti-rejection drugs to ensure that her own defense system would not reject her donor’s heart. The anti-organ rejection drug was very expensive, and she did not have the financial means to afford them. I remember this well because as a new MSW on the job, it was very challenging for me to learn the ropes on the application requirements for various social and financial assistance schemes. I left the job not long after and therefore did not have the chance to follow through on the progress of her case.
It was interesting to know that she even had a chance to meet the donor’s family. The protocol at that time did not allow for contact with the donor’s family. In the documentary, the donor’s family members seemed to have known her very well, and had even invited her home on different occasions. The donor’s mother remarked that she accepted Daisy as she realized that her son’s heart was now a part of Daisy. Somehow, Daisy also became more tom-boyish in appearance after the transplant. She took good care of the donor’s heart. She lived a simple life, in a rented HDB flat and had a job as a book binder in a sheltered workshop. She received a small sum for her income and thus was also supported through other welfare provisions.
Another patient of mine spent a fortune to get a heart transplant in Australia and managed to live for 23 years thereafter only to find he needed a kidney transplant. The anti-rejection drugs had many side effects but with new drugs, transplant patients do live longer.
I wonder if in I were a similar predicament, would I be willing to spend a fortune for an expedited transplant surgery, or wait in line indefinitely to receive a matching donor’s heart? Even with an organ transplant, what quality of life would I have? These are tough questions, perhaps only with a clear purpose of life in mind, can one make such complex and critical decisions. Still, I wonder if I would choose to live or to die naturally, letting the disease take its course? Only time will tell, what final decision I would make, if I ever had to.