Heart transplant

‘A new chance at life’: South African man receives heart transplant after 12-year health battle

  • After years of consulting doctors and specialists, a South African man has finally received a heart transplant.
  • It gave him a new chance in life and he now advocates for people to become organ donors.
  • In South Africa, 5,000 children and adults are currently waiting for life-saving organ or cornea transplants.

In January 2020, Mike Cohen was blessed with a lifesaving and much needed heart transplant.

Since then, the entrepreneur and father of two, along with his wife Amy, have worked to raise awareness about how organ donation saves countless lives.

Currently, around 5,000 children and adults in South Africa are waiting for life-saving organ or cornea transplants.

Here are some important facts about organ donation:

  • One organ donor can save the lives of seven other people. The heart, liver, and pancreas can save three lives, while the kidneys and lungs can help up to four people.
  • A tissue donor can help up to 50 people by donating their corneas, skin, bones, tendons and heart valves.
  • Registering as an organ donor does not cost you a penny and does not involve medical tests. You can also change your mind later.

Mike, who describes his lifestyle as “active”, played amateur provincial rugby for 16 years when he was younger. He exercised about 36 hours a week. “I was going to the gym five days a week without fail too,” he says. .

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However, he had no idea that he was born without enough blood in a small part of his heart.

In 1999, his heartbeat became irregular, but tests were inconclusive. Then, in 2008, he collapsed on the rugby pitch. Then begins a journey of appointments with several doctors and specialists.

In 2017, his heart was massively enlarged. Over the next three years, he experienced a series of serious health complications until, in June 2019, his cardiologist suggested he be placed on the transplant list.

Mike Cohen with his son and daughter.

Registration on the list of heart transplants

“Getting on the transplant list means going through a careful process,” says Mike.

Amy adds: “You have to see a lot of specialists and also make sure you have support at home so that your recovery after your transplant is optimal. the recipient will do everything in their power to protect the donated organ.”

Complications

Mike was added to the heart transplant waiting list in September 2019. As of January 2020, he was sleeping most of his days due to constant exhaustion.

“I prayed all day that every day would be the day a heart would be available,” Amy says.

That same month, Mike received the call telling him to go to the hospital to begin the process of receiving his new heart.

Post-transplant

After facing a series of complications once he received his new heart, things finally started to look up about four months later.

According to data from the Discovery Health Medical Scheme (DHMS):

  • From 2017 to 2021, DHMS funded 48 heart, 41 lung, 112 liver, 243 kidney, 16 pancreatic, and 166 bone marrow stem cell transplants. Altruistic, anonymous organ donors have enabled most of these life-saving procedures (including some living related donors for kidney transplants).
  • In 2021, 101 transplants were performed at a cost of around R71.1 million.

Mike, who is a member of DHMS, expressed his gratitude that the high cost of his treatments, eventual transplant and lifelong medications he has to take are covered by the scheme.

Better days ahead

The couple welcomed their son in September 2021 – a real blessing and a dream come true for their family, they say.

The former fitness enthusiast is getting stronger day by day. “I can’t get to a full 5k yet,” says Mike. “I do a kind of running, but it’s so exciting to be able to exercise!”

He checks his blood pressure and heart rate daily and adjusts the medications he takes as advised by his doctors. It will continue to be monitored in the future.

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The need for more organ donors

Unfortunately, there is a lack of transplantable organs and a need for transplants in many countries around the world, including South Africa.

Mike knows things could have turned out differently. “Unfortunately, some of the people I met did not survive due to the lack of available organs,” he says. Amy adds, “We have received such an incredible gift and we will do everything we can to raise awareness of the massive need for organ donations.

Mike says: “We thank the selfless people who sign up and donate as they give others the ultimate gift – another chance at life.”

What do you want to know

Organ transplants only take place after a donor has been declared brain dead, but is still supported by a ventilator or artificial respiratory support. The recipient will receive the donated organ shortly after it is retrieved from the donor. Tissue removal can still take place several hours or even days after death. Tissues are stored in a tissue bank and available as needed.

August is National Organ Donation Awareness Month. To become an organ donor, simply register with the Organ Donor Foundation or call 0800 22 66 11 free of charge during office hours.