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When a genetic heart disease catches up: a transplant story

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​​​​​​​​Photo of Randy standing
Randy Mulrooney, pictured here by the Iguazu Falls in Argentina in 2012, lived with a genetic heart condition for 30 years. He discusses how his new heart has changed his life. (Photo: Randy Mulrooney)​

When Randy Mulrooney's uncle had a massive heart attack 30 years ago, his entire family was strongly advised to get their hearts tested.

Randy did, only to discover he had hypertrophic cardiomyopathy: a genetic heart condition that causes excessive heart muscle growth, chest pain, shortness of breath and heart rhythm problems. He was 24.

Slowly, he started developing symptoms and then, while swimming one afternoon in May of 1996, Randy had his first heart attack at the age of 34.

On June 4, 2015, he was placed on a heart transplant list.

Randy received his new heart on January 7, 2016 – a date he now calls his new birthday.

To mark the conclusion of our coverage on 2016 National Organ Tissue Donation Awareness Week, we interviewed Randy on his 30-year experience from discovering his genetic heart condition had caught up with him to recovering with a new healthy heart.​​

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How has this heart transplant changed your life?

It changed my life remarkably. I don't notice it in the bigger things, but rather the smaller things – like the colour of my hands, the colour of my face, being able to go for a walk, to breathe climbing stairs, to get groceries, and to clean my house. It impacts every single moment of my day.

How has this transplant changed your family's life?

I think most people assume the largest impact is on the recipient, but I learned it's so much larger on the people surrounding you than it is on you. When you're going through it, you're living it so you just get through it. But the people who love you have difficulty coping with what you're about to face.

My friends and family are now so overwhelmed. They are so relieved and thankful that someone would give such a precious gift and allow me to have a new life.

What do you have to say to those considering becoming organ donors?

I'd encourage everyone to become an organ donor. You're not only saving one person like me but six or seven other people at one time.

What would you like to say to those waiting for a transplant?

Don't be afraid of dying and be positive. You're about to receive a gift of life so why should you be afraid of anything giving you new life?

Randy shows model of man holding his golden heart
Randy shows model of man holding his golden heart. He hopes to give this to his donor’s family should he ever meet them as symbol of his gratitude. (Photo: UHN)

What would you like to say to your donor's family?

That's a very hard question to answer. How do you thank someone who's given you the greatest gift of all: life?

I've brought something for my donor's family in the event that I hopefully get to meet them and it's this wonderful little man holding his golden heart. To me, this is me holding my new heart.

I hope they can see this as a symbol of love instead of pain and realize what a great gift they've given me.


Register to be an organ and tissue donor online at www.beadonor.ca​​

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