Rebecca Craven back on the beach, post op, with Jess Mazzitelli.
Rebecca Craven back on the beach, post op, with Jess Mazzitelli. Contributed

‘Bionic Bec’ grateful for heart transplant

WITH every beat of her brave new heart, Rebecca Craven is thankful.

The 26-year-old aspiring model has been fighting for her life since returning from a dream Bali getaway in 2013 with a mystery virus that attacked her heart.

But the young woman, known for her vivacious smile and love for life, has beaten the odds by getting a second chance at life with a heart transplant.

“I just feel grateful and thankful that someone donated this gift,” she said on Wednesday from the Prince Charles Hospital in Brisbane.

The former Kirra Beach Hotel waitress was first hospitalised with pneumonia at Tweed Hospital in 2013, just after returning from overseas.

Doctors said it was not possible to diagnose the virus that caused Ms Craven to take a turn for the worse.

“Sometimes a viral illness can attack the muscles,” explained Dr George Javorksy, director of Prince Charles Hospital’s heart transplant unit.

“Most people recover, but in Rebecca’s case the virus attacked the heart and it didn’t recover.”

BRAVE: Rebecca Craven, with brother James Craven, as she waits for surgery at the Prince Charles Hospital in 2015.
BRAVE: Rebecca Craven, with brother James Craven, as she waits for surgery at the Prince Charles Hospital in 2015. Contributed

With her stoic family by her side, Ms Craven was moved to Prince Charles Hospital in June 2015, where she had open heart surgery to implant a left ventricular assist device inside her chest.

The machine took over the functioning of the heart to move blood around her body.

“I feel like a bionic woman,” Ms Craven said at the time.

Rebecca Craven prepares for her heart transplant.
Rebecca Craven prepares for her heart transplant. Contributed

Then, there was no choice but to take her place in a 1600-strong national organ donation queue, in which less than 100 patients a year receive heart transplants.

“Psychologically, waiting was the hardest part,” MsCraven said.

“I never got ‘the’ phone call. I was already in hospital and they told me there was a potential organ.

“I tried not to get my hopes up because there was still that potential ‘no’, but I was very excited at the same time. Then it was straight into surgery and it was kind of like: ‘Is this real life?’ It was surreal. I felt very blessed and very excited.”

Since the transplant, MsCraven has stuck to her trademark positivity by enjoying the simple things in life, like the ocean.

Rebecca Craven back on the beach after her heart transplant.
Rebecca Craven back on the beach after her heart transplant. Contributed

“Sometimes it’s a bit strange, coming from the VLAD and having no pulse to just feeling that heart beat, but it’s great because I have a heart that works,” she said.

Ms Craven plans to take on an advocacy role with Donate Life, a national program aimed at increasing donation rates.

The organisation claims one donor can transform the lives of 10 or more people, with doctors now able to transplant heart, lungs, liver, kidneys, intestine and pancreas. Heart valves, bone, tendons, ligaments, skin and eye tissues can also be donated.

Donation of organs can take place at Tweed Hospital and when they do happen, are transported by a police convoy, and private charter plane if going interstate.

But Tweed Hospital intensive care unit director Dr Mike Lindley-Jones said many chose not to donate due to misconceptions. “The whole process is, in fact, caring and respectful,” he said.

Donation is made difficult by the fact less than 1% of people die in favourable circumstances. Brain death and circulatory death must be diagnosed. There were only six donations in northern NSW in 2015.

“Hence, each individual donor is extremely valuable to people like Bec,” DrLindley-Jones said.

“Sadly, many people die waiting for a transplant. On average, one person dies each day waiting for a transplant in Australia.”

Ms Craven is extremely grateful.

“The way I look at it is, the donor is partly living in me. I don’t think that person has actually died or passed away – I’m hoping the family would think like that too.”

  • Ms Craven’s transplant date can’t be revealed to protect donor anonymity.

Prince Charles Hospital heart transplant director Dr George Javorksy

“WHEN we get an offer of a donor heart, we need to make sure it’s the right height and weight and blood group.

“If we’re happy, a team of medical nursing staff will go to the donor’s hospital to retrieve the heart and at the same time we make sure our recipient is stable.

“The recipient will go on nill by mouth, be taken to theatre. The cardiac surgeon won’t take the old heart out until the new heart is in the hospital.

“The patient is put on a heart and lung machine; the old heart is taken out, and new heart put into the chest and restarted.

“Normally, when blood supply is restored to the heart it will spontaneously restart.

“It can take four to seven hours and a medical team of up to 30 from woe to go.

“We average about 15 heart transplants a year and there’s only about 60 to 80 per year for the whole country.

“It’s critical people talk with their family about their decision to donate. If they don’t have that discussion, then we miss out on many organs.”

DONATE LIFE

DISCOVER: Research online at Donatelife.gov.au.

DECIDE: Sign up on the Australian Organ Donor Register.

DISCUSS: Talk with your family about it.

GET SET: Rebecca Craven prepares for her open heart surgery to receive a heart transplant from a donor.
GET SET: Rebecca Craven prepares for her open heart surgery to receive a heart transplant from a donor. Contributed


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