Given that most of us don’t look after our bodies very well, it’s easy to think that those who have heart disease are simply guilty of over-indulgence of food and drink, and lack of exercise.
That may be a big underlying reason why the South African Government has scaled back on heart transplants, the assumption being that this illness is self-inflicted and the state should not be expected to pay for poor lifestyle choices.
But cardiovascular disease can also be genetic or the result of viral infection.There are many instances of very sick children receiving heart transplants within weeks of being born. That is a fundamental reason why Government must CONTINUE to resource organ transplant programmes, despite the very necessary focus on primary healthcare in a country like ours. If we take the view that organ transplants are an unnecessary financial burden on society, we are saying to very ill children in poor communities throughout our country that ‘you are not worthy of receiving the best healthcare our society has pioneered for the benefit of all humankind – and you must simply get ready to die’.
In my case, my view is that my illness was a combination of what I inherited at birth and perhaps a viral infection at some stage shortly after that or later in life. Doctors do not necessarily support the idea that I could have had heart disease since birth, saying it would have been evident at some stage earlier than my 45th year. However, there were many indicators over the years of my heart not measuring up to reasonable expectations of what physical activities I could undertake. These indicators were generally ignored, as they probably are for most kids today whose symptoms are not that acute, and one’s body is capable of adapting to an extent for a poorly functioning heart.
Of course, it would be deceitful of me to hold out that I was always a loyal cadre of the movement for a better lifestyle. On the contrary, throughout my life, I enjoyed a love affair with food and drink second to none – more was always better; moderation was a disgusting 10-letter word. I know better now.
Interestingly, in the final stage of cardiac failure, about eight months before my heart transplant, I developed a real aversion to food and drink, leading to severe weight loss – about 20kg or more. I literally felt revolted by food. From being the leftover cleaner-upper, I was that horrible food waster who pushes his plate away after half-a-mouthful. It was directly related to my heart not pumping effectively, causing problems throughout my digestive system.
From the moment that H2 joined my team, and I was given the go-ahead in hospital to eat solid foods, my appetite returned with a vengeance. It was the clearest, most immediate sign – to me at least – that the transplant was successful. But it also signaled a new understanding of the health value of eating.
The regular checks that I currently undergo with the heart unit in Cape Town show that my H2 is doing incredibly well. I have increased my walking routine, my medication is generally in balance and I am eating well (perhaps too well, but that seems to be a challenge for all transplant recipients, the benefits of having a body that operates radically differently from a few short months ago, as well as medication such as steroids).
With the support of loved ones and self-appointed “monitors”, I eat healthily most of the time. My eyes are more-or-less the same size as my gut and dependent on what H2 can manage to push through my body without any problems.
I will not indulge in Banting or similar fads like caw-li-flahwer rice or caw-li-flahwer bread or caw-li-flahwer whatever. I’m reborn and didn’t go over to the dark side. Sorry.
Ever-so-often I crave soul food or comfort food. I am still allowed to lick clean the trifle bowls by my wife and sisters – the popularly declared experts for this part of our family menu.
I figure the occasional koeksuster, lamington & Fiery Dragon ginger beer will not cause H2 any worries either.