Geoff Fisher’s a feisty fellow. Watch him carve up the water like his namesake, and you’d swear he had fins. But one balmy morn in 2009, the Fish floundered. His heart suddenly stopped. Yet that’s where this extraordinary story begins.
Sharing the pool was Geoff’s mate Robert Larbalestier — a renowned heart surgeon. Robert, assisted by another doctor and a nurse who also happened to be in the water that morning, desperately persisted with CPR long after others would have given up.
Though a pacemaker would be fitted, the portrait photographer’s ailing heart simply couldn’t keep up.
“In between 2009 and 2018 I had a couple of ablations, where they go in and burn off certain areas of the heart to stop it going into bad rhythms,” Geoff recalls. “And that might have helped a little bit but it didn’t solve the problem.”
The problem came down to simple math. “It got to the Ejection Fraction,” he says of the number used to gauge how much blood the heart’s left ventricle pumps out with each contraction. “Normal is 55. I was down to 10. I got to the point where it was either heart transplant or go to an artificial, and I really didn’t want to do that because you can’t swim with those.”
Though a relatively senior 70, the fitness fanatic met the strict criteria set by Fiona Stanley Hospital’s heart transplant team.
“I was really lucky because I was right on the limit at 70, and it’s only because I had maintained fitness and I also had worked hard in the gym in that period,” he says. “I went as hard as I could with the heart that I had.”
Astoundingly, a perfect match was found in a relatively short space of time and Robert would once again be called upon to fix his mate’s broken heart.
But performing a vital role in the procedure was Spinnaker researcher and cardiac anaesthetist Warren Pavey, who is working tirelessly to ensure there are more viable hearts available for transplant.
“If we can keep the heart stronger for longer we can save more lives. We are using novel techniques to improve the health of a donated heart, while outside the body. This work will allow us to offer healthy hearts to more critically ill patients who need them.”Dr Warren Pavey, Cardiac Anaesthetist and Chair Heart and Lung Research Institute.
Geoff has written to his donor family through an intermediary. “I’m hoping they’ll come back and say we can meet up and I can show them that it’s been a worthwhile investment.”
While the heart has been a priceless gift, it took some adjusting to. “For the first week I was struggling to own it. I didn’t know where I was mentally with it. Is it my heart? Is it my heart yet? Is it my heart now? Eventually I’ve gotten used to it and it hasn’t stopped beating. It’s been very good. I give it a really good work out.”
“When I’m having a really beautiful day, the sun’s shining and the birds are singing and I think: ‘Oh, what might have been?’ I appreciate every day and I appreciate the little things,” he says wistfully.
“And sometimes it’ just the movement of air through a window and I just think of how beautiful that is. Or a lovely piece of music playing. So I’ve already had a year of all of that in my new life. It’s not to say I didn’t appreciate things before but it gives it extra meaning.”