A matter of the heart: Garry defies the odds to live and thrive

DISTANT MEMORY: Garry Wakefield received at heart transplant 25 years ago. Transplants normally last about 11 years, but Garry is thriving. Picture: JAMES WILTSHIRE
DISTANT MEMORY: Garry Wakefield received at heart transplant 25 years ago. Transplants normally last about 11 years, but Garry is thriving. Picture: JAMES WILTSHIRE

More than 39 years ago Jean Wakefield was bathing her youngest son, when his body went limp and his eyes rolled into the back of his head. 

Her six-month-old baby was having a heart attack.

“I didn’t know what was wrong but I knew something was seriously wrong,” she said.

Her son, Garry, was rushed to hospital and flown to Melbourne where he was diagnosed with a rare heart condition, Barth Syndrome. 

“It was scary, every day and every night,” he said.

“I don’t know how many light switches in his room we broke when he was a baby just from turning them on and off, on and off, constantly checking he was breathing.”

For a decade, Garry and Jean went from appointment to appointment, until he took another turn for the worse.

“When he was 13 he went to Wagga Speedway with his sisters and was without oxygen for 45 minutes,” Jean said.

“He passed away for 45 minutes and spent the next seven weeks unconscious.

“Once he was well enough he was put on the heart transplant list.”

Garry knows he wasn’t expected to live.

Garry and Jean, sharing a cuppa.

Garry and Jean, sharing a cuppa.

But on Saturday, his friends and family surprised him with a celebration for his 40th birthday and 25 years since his heart transplant.

“My heart’s going pretty good,” Garry said.

“It wasn’t always an easy road to go down for me or for mum.”

At 40, Garry spends his days making trucks and toys at the Lavington Men’s Shed to donate to various children’s charities.

25 years on, he hasn’t forgotten how was someone else’s kindness, and loss, allowed him to live. 

“Someone had to die to give me a second chance at life, you don’t throw that away,” he said.

Jean said all they know about the donor was they were a child of eight or nine.

“I’d love to know, to be able to say thank you (to the family) and this is where we are all these years later,” she said.

In a country donation registry is very low, and families can overrule a potential donor’s desire, Garry knows he is lucky.

“There’s not enough awareness in the community of donations, if more people knew what went on and who needs them they’d probably get more donations,” he said.

“I’d encourage people to talk to people who had a transplant, listen to their story and then decide.”