Transplant patients grab at chance to live a full life

SECOND CHANGE: Alan Power hasn’t let  a heart transplant more than 10 years ago slow him down. He’s represented New Zealand in five World Transplant Games in tennis and golf.
SECOND CHANGE: Alan Power hasn’t let a heart transplant more than 10 years ago slow him down. He’s represented New Zealand in five World Transplant Games in tennis and golf.

Alan Power doesn't plan on putting his tennis rackets or golf clubs down any time soon.

The 64-year-old from Waikanae was born with a congenital heart condition, complicated by rheumatic fever when he was nine.

Then in 1974, he suffered an infection after a visit to the dentist and had to have his aortic valve replaced.

Twenty years later, his heart completely failed and he had a transplant in 2003. "I didn't want a transplant, and held off as long as I could until my health was so bad I had a few weeks to live," he says. "I was New Zealand's 147th heart transplant."

It was while in recovery at "Hearty Towers" - the rehabilitation unit for transplant patients at Auckland's Green Lane Hospital - that he saw a notice advertising the World Transplant Games, a kind of Olympics for people who have undergone a lifesaving organ transplant.

"I've always played sport, and I always wanted to represent my country at sport, so this was a great opportunity to achieve that goal."

He had taken up golf and tennis after being forced to stop playing rugby in his 20s due to his poor health.

To date, he's attended five World Transplant Games with those sports, in Canada, Thailand, Australia, Sweden and South Africa, as well as two Australian Transplant Games, taking away a swag of medals.

He is heading to Melbourne in September, and has Argentina in his sights for next year's world games.

"I'm just living a normal life as far as I'm concerned, and I plan to continue to remain active and live a full life," he says. "I think everyone should do that, not just people who have transplants."

IT WAS through tennis that Power's doubles partner, Ian Patterson, discovered he had cardiomyopathy, a disease of the heart muscle.

He was in his late 20s, playing competitively, when he started feeling tired all the time.

The 54-year-old Auckland sales manager took a fitness test and was told something was wrong with his heart.

"I had a virus that slowly ate away at the heart, and it ended up that half of my heart wasn't working," he says. "At the start I didn't know how bad it was, so I carried on. It got worse and worse so I thought I should take up something less strenuous, so I started playing a lot of golf.

"By the end, I couldn't even walk around a golf course."

After being on a transplant list for nine months, he finally had the operation in 2002 - one of only six heart transplants that year.

"I was very weak and very sick by the time of my transplant - I never dreamed I'd ever play tennis again, let alone learning about the Transplant Games."

His wife had read about a man who had taken part in the games and put Patterson in touch with him.

After a rough couple of years following the transplant - he nearly died from pneumonia - Patterson was finally fit enough to attend the 2006 Australian games, where he took away gold medals in tennis, singles and doubles.

He has since competed in two more games, and this year completed the Oxfam Trailwalker challenge in Taupo, walking 100 kilometres in 26 hours.

"I owe a lot to my donor family, and it was a way for me to do something to prove myself," Patterson says.

"The donor family's expectation is for the [recipient] to live life to the full. All I can do is make sure I look after myself, my health and the heart they've given me."

AFTER getting her new heart 10 years ago, Sacha Wettenhall has never looked back.

The 28-year-old was born with a hole in her heart, and at 15 suffered a virus that put her in a coma for two weeks.

She came out of hospital and was put on "a whole heap" of medication.

"They said, you'll be right, that should last you for about 10 years, then we'll look at having a transplant," she says. "Within a year I was back in hospital again."

Wettenhall was flown from where she was then living in Balfour, Southland, to Auckland Hospital, and given a heart as soon as one became available.

In 2009, she heard about the World Transplant Games, that year held in Broadbeach, Australia.

"I didn't have a heap of money at the time but I managed to scrape enough together to give it a go," she says.

"I've been to every games since."

While her specialty is tennis, she has also competed in table tennis, bowling and volleyball, which has taken her to Sweden and South Africa.

"If I hadn't had the transplant I wouldn't have done the travelling, so there is an upside to everything, I suppose," she says.

ROSS FORRESTER wants to show his daughter there is still a life to be lived after a heart transplant.

The Aucklander suffered from a congenital heart disease which caused his heart to start dying when he was 58.

His 33-year-old daughter now has the same disease.

"One day she will end up like me, with a transplant," he says. "I live a full life so she can see there's life for her as well."

Now 65, Forrester had his transplant in 2009. "At one stage I went in for a couple of tests and they said, we need to talk seriously about transplants. A month later, I had one."

He credits golf with bringing it back to life. "I've always played golf," he says.

"It's my reason for living, really. My objective from day one was to get back playing.

"For the first three months they said I wasn't allowed to swing a golf club because I'd just been chopped down my chest.

"On the 12th week, I was back out on my front lawn gently swinging."

He attended his first World Transplant Games, in Sweden, in 2011, and got a bronze medal in golf, while also giving darts and table tennis a go.

People tend to think heart-transplant patients are wrapped up in cottonwool, he says.

"But most of us are out living and doing things. I still wake up in the morning and pinch myself some days. I'm really lucky."