Waiting for a new heart

Karla was born with two holes in her heart and a heart murmur. She tells us how she coped after having two heart attacks when she was just 18.

True Stories

girl holding heart

"I had two holes in my heart."

I was in my first year of college doing a vocational course, making friends and enjoying life, but then my whole world turned upside down – I had a heart attack. It felt like someone was stabbing me in the chest with a knife over and over again; the pain was excruciating. I was in hospital for a few weeks after the attack having lots of tests and seeing various doctors. They told me to “Take it easy,” like doctors always do.

After three months of rest I went back to college, but then things took a turn for the worse. I was staying at my Nana’s house and woke up in the middle of the night with a terrible pain in my chest. I knew I was having a heart attack again, but this one felt a lot worse. I had a panic attack and was completely paralysed – I couldn’t even shout for help. Luckily my Grandad was going to the toilet and heard me falling out of bed. If it wasn’t for him I probably wouldn’t be here.

Being diagnosed

The two holes in my heart were causing the problems and I needed an operation immediately to repair them. Unfortunately the surgery didn’t go well and they only managed to repair one of the holes. My heart stopped halfway through the operation and I was unconscious for a week on a life support machine – I nearly didn’t make it.

When I woke up from the operation I could hear my brother saying my name. I had a really dry mouth and couldn’t wait to have something to eat and drink. I was diagnosed with level three heart failure. This meant that physical activities would be difficult for me and could cause fatigue, palpitations, and dyspnea. The biggest shock of all came when I was told that I needed a heart transplant and was put on the register. The doctors were stunned at how quickly heart failure came on – it usually takes years, but it took my heart less than six months to get to that stage. I probably should have had surgery when I was younger, but my heart hadn’t caused any problems for me then.

My whole world came crashing down, but I stayed strong. It was a choice between crying every day or getting on with my life. I wasn’t in college anymore because I was too ill. Instead I played computer games and listened to music at home. I gradually got weaker and needed help with everyday tasks like getting dressed. It was very hard to cope with losing my independence and I was diagnosed with depression. As time went on life became even harder; I hated feeling weak all the time and needing help with everything. It got to the point where I thought I would never get a new heart.

A second chance

Even though I thought that Christmas would be my last, I really enjoyed it and even had a good New Year. Everyone was crying for me when the clock struck midnight and they told me to keep fighting. When it was over I felt like I couldn’t go on anymore – I would have done anything to end it all or get a heart. A week later I got a call from the doctors saying they’d found a suitable donor. My wish came true and thankfully the operation went well. I spent four hours in surgery where they took out my old heart and put a new one in. When I woke up I burst out crying – I had a second chance at life.

At the moment I’m just resting and getting my life back on track, taking each day as it comes. My life has completely changed and I feel a lot stronger and healthier. I’m so grateful to the person who gave me their heart and will never take life for granted again. I’m going to have a few months rest because I’ve still got depression, but I’m getting lots of support from my family and doctors. I want to go to college in September and study art, so hopefully I’ll get better soon and be able to get on with my life.

Photo of girl holding heart by Shutterstock

Next Steps

  • Chat about this subject on our Discussion Boards.
  • Need help but confused where to go locally? Download our StepFinder iPhone app to find local support services quickly.


Updated on 29-Sep-2015