‘Miracle of a donor heart, came just at the right time’

By Viwe Ndongeni-Ntlebi Time of article published Jul 11, 2017

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WERNER Kyrt Krauss, 49, a Cape Town tourism professional and long distance swimmer was ready to die, and had told doctors and family that he just wants medication to keep him comfortable when he received a second chance to live.

After two consecutive heart attacks, on the same day, he had to depend on mechanical life support in hospital, where he stayed for nine months.

But thanks to a heart transplant that Krauss underwent last month - he now has a new lease of life.

His life changed last September when he visited his family doctor with stomach pain, which turned out to be related to heart failure.

It was on the way to hospital that he got two heart attacks - one in an ambulance and one on arrival at the hospital.

He admits that he watched his life deteriorate while admitted at Netcare Christiaan Barnard Memorial Hospital where he had his heart transplant.

“My life was deteriorating each day, I couldn’t shower without assistance and simple things such as holding a tea cup was too much of an effort. That is when I decided that I’m okay, I’m ready to die and I’m not scared of death,” he said.

It was after doctors had agreed that they will switch off his life support in a few days that he received the best news ever he had received a donor heart.

“I was so happy, I could not believe it. Just at the right time, my miracle had come,’’ he said.

After nine months of hospital stay, he says the first thing he was going to do when he gets home is sit in his garden and spend some time with his dogs .

Since his transplant he admits that he is now an advocate for the Organ Donor Foundation - a platform to encourage people to register as organ donors.

His partner of 19 years, Roelof du Plooy, 47, who has been supporting him through the process says, “his sickness took a toll on both of us emotionally.”

Watching him losing strength was something that he says was heart-breaking, which was evident on his performance at work.

Dr Willie Koen, the head of transplant at Netcare Christiaan Barnard Hospital, says donor organ prevalence and procurement in South Africa is one of lowest in the World. In South Africa there are only two organ donors per million people; in first world countries such as Spain this stood at about 45.

“In South Africa, we transplant about 25-35 hearts per year. This number has been constant for the past 40 years. However, the demand for hearts has increased fivefold. This year is so far a very bad year for donor hearts. Let’s hope we see an improvement as the year goes on. We are just hoping that fewer organs get wasted", he added.

Koen said once a damaged organ is replaced the person can have a normal quality of life, but organ donation remained critically low.

“We have about 500 000 people in SA suffering of isolated heart failure. Not all of them qualify for a transplant but at least 5000 will fulfil these criteria. Of these, we only transplant 25-35 per year. The rest, unfortunately, die as medications available will only treat this symptomatically for a limited period of time,” he said.

The most common reasons for heart failure in adults are ischaemic heart diseases which are known as heart attacks and cardiomyopathy, an unknown condition associated with a virus and flu. In children, heart failure is caused by congenital conditions and often acquired valve conditions.

Dr Koen says a patient with heart failure who qualifies for a heart transplant has a prognosis of less than two years. With a heart transplant, the five-year survival is up to 80% and 15-year survival of up to 40%.

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