Forty-four year old Luke calls himself the unluckiest, yet luckiest person alive, after his incredible health journey culminated in a life-saving heart transplant two years ago.
Diagnosed with an inflammatory disease of the heart so rare it is likened to being hit by a bolt of lightning, the Queensland man can still barely believe the chain of events that began with what he thought was simply a strained muscle.
In 2017 Luke was a fit and healthy father of two, who enjoyed a very active lifestyle, complete with regular gym sessions and sporting activity. However, it was at the end of a gym session in February that Luke first noticed a niggling pain in his chest. This would lead to a series of complications that would change his life forever.
“While I put the pain in my chest down to a strained pec muscle, it coincided with an unusually high heart rate, which would race even when I wasn’t exercising,” said Luke. After a trip to the GP, he ended up seeing a cardiologist. “The GP had detected an irregularity in my heartbeat,” said Luke.
The next week, ahead of his appointment, Luke began experiencing flu-like symptoms, was finding himself very tired and had developed severe pain in his upper abdomen. His family insisted he go to the hospital and by the time he arrived his condition had deteriorated to such an extent that he was having difficulty simply walking.
To the surprise of the cardiology team at the Wesley Hospital, tests revealed Luke’s heart was inflamed and covered in scar tissue, resulting in significantly reduced function. Luke spent a month in hospital being closely monitored by the cardiac team.
His kidneys had also begun to deteriorate, and at this point while there wasn’t a clear diagnosis (and his heart was simply too weak to undergo a biopsy), his medical team treated him for a rare and severe auto-immune condition. They thought it may have been Giant Cell Myocarditis or Cardiac Sarcoidosis, where a virus was attacking his body and his heart was seriously impacted, with irreversible damage. Prior to leaving hospital Luke was fitted with a defibrillator and heart medication to stabilise his condition. This worked for around 12 months.
On being weaned off some of the medication, the pain in his abdomen returned and his body came under ‘attack’ again.
“My heart function had reduced to just 22% and it was then that I was referred to the Heart Failure Unit at The Prince Charles Hospital”.
Luke however, did not make his first appointment. It was 10pm one night when Luke was preparing for bed that his heart started to race and it didn’t slow down.
“My wife rushed me to the emergency department and it was there that I went into cardiac arrest. It took an incredible team of doctors and nurses to bring me back to life, although my heart was now weaker than ever,” he said, adding “I was taken to the ICU, where I was monitored closely, but ultimately, was told I needed a heart transplant.”
After just two months of being on the transplant waiting list, Luke received the call to say a heart was available. He had the transplant the same day and returned home within two weeks.
“Now I’m healthier than I’ve ever been, and I’m reminded daily of the incredible gift the donor family gave me, as well as all the amazing doctors and nurses that made it all possible. It’s humbling to say the least and my family are extremely grateful.”
Back to his active self, last year Luke and his wife Joanne completed a 20 kilometre charity bike ride and realised his goal of completing the Spartan Race, which involves a series of obstacle courses.
The final diagnosis of Luke’s old heart was ‘lymphocytic myocarditis’, a rare inflammatory response to what is to this day, an unknown virus his body tried to fight.
Luke is now a proud advocate of organ donation and hopes to raise awareness of the importance of registering to be an organ and tissue donor through his inspiring story.
More Australians are alive today because of organ and tissue donation. To register to be an organ and tissue donor, visit donatelife.gov.au. It only takes a minute.