New year, new heart for Jamie

Embracing life’s delights: Young woman finds joy with her newly transplanted heart

Tuesday, January 23 2024

Jamie Lyn Waller, a 28-year-old graphic designer and part-time lecturer from Sea Point in Cape Town, is diving into 2024 with a renewed spirit and profound gratitude. Her dreams of a bath, a swim, and a short run have all materialised, thanks to a precious gift – a new, healthy heart from an anonymous donor.

Jamie's journey to this moment began four years ago when she found herself on the waiting list for a heart transplant. The challenges heightened during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, adding another layer of complexity to her struggle.

Recalling the onset of her health problems, Jamie says, "I was just 24, immersed in my first job when, on 22 October 2019, I suddenly fell ill. What seemed like pneumonia led to my hospitalisation, and within days, I received the devastating diagnosis of dilated cardiomyopathy – a condition hindering the heart's ability to pump blood efficiently.

Capturing a heartwarming moment with smiles that speak volumes. Siblings Jamie Lyn Waller and her brother, Josh, share a special moment before Jamie is wheeled into the theatre for her LVAD (Left Ventricular Assist Device) procedure in March 2021.  


Surrounded by caring support: Jamie Lyn Waller, with Yvonne Gärtner, clinical neuropsychologist (left), and Sister Helena Williams, heart transplant coordinator (right), before her LVAD procedure in 2021. 


Diving into 2024 with joy! Jamie Lee Waller celebrates her first swim in three years, realising dreams of a bath, a swim, and a short run, all made possible by the precious gift of a new, healthy heart from an anonymous donor.


“The urgency of the situation demanded the installation of a pacemaker and defibrillator to support my weakened and enlarged heart. Yet, challenges persisted, and on the brink of discharge, I suffered a stroke, propelling me into a prolonged journey of relearning how to speak, read, and write from scratch. Two subsequent hospitalisations later, the verdict became clear: a heart transplant was the crucial next step to ensure my survival. However, with the pandemic, transplant procedures were paused temporarily as ventilators were needed for seriously ill COVID-19 patients.”

Hope, however, emerged on 15 March 2021, in the form of an LVAD (Left Ventricular Assist Device), skillfully implanted by world-renowned cardiac and transplant surgeon Dr Willie Koen at Netcare Christiaan Barnard Memorial Hospital.

Dr Koen explains that the LVAD served as a temporary solution, mechanically supporting Jamie's failing heart and enabling crucial blood circulation. “Technological strides in these devices have paved the way for viable long-term solutions, offering patients like Jamie a chance at a more active and fulfilling life. While some find it to be a long-term solution, for others, like Jamie, a heart transplant remains imperative. "

Reflecting on the transformative impact of heart transplantation, Dr Koen emphasises, "Even now, 56 years after Professor Christiaan Barnard performed the world's first heart transplant in 1967, the remarkable medical feat of heart transplantation continues to touch and rebuild thousands of lives.

“Unfortunately, we just don’t talk enough about it, and people forget what a tremendous gift a new heart – or any other donor organ for that matter – can be and the transformative impact it can have on the lives of those living with serious and debilitating healthcare conditions."

“Life with the LVAD was almost back to normal,” says Jamie, “with the exception of swimming, bathing and cardio exercise like running and the fact that I couldn’t wear a dress, which I missed. For me a new donor heart had become a beacon of hope for a life unburdened by the limitations of heart failure.

“And when I finally got the call that a matching donor heart had been found for me, around 22h30 one night towards the end of last year, the shock of it was still great. I had to go to sleep that night, knowing that my life would change in the morning. When I think of it, I still cannot believe it happened," exclaims Jamie.

As she embarks on this new chapter, Jamie's dreams are now well within reach. With the spectre of dilated cardiomyopathy behind her, she envisions a future filled with the simple pleasures that were once taken for granted.

"Before the transplant, I was worried about so many different things – the transplant itself, the immunosuppressants – but I have been in the best possible care. Now I'm looking forward to this great new beginning," reflects Jamie.

Jamie Lyn Waller's story serves as a powerful testament to the resilience of the human spirit and the transformative power of heart transplantation. Stepping into 2024 with a new heart, Jamie Lyn embodies hope, reminding us of the incredible impact one selfless act can have on a person's life.

In a world where the marvels of heart transplantation have become commonplace, Jamie's journey rekindles the conversation about the profound gift of a new heart and the life-altering change it brings to those grappling with severe and debilitating heart conditions.


Notes to editor

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