Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 31 August 2014

Man kept alive by a battery-powered heart prepares for his personal marathon: a walk of just a few miles

Andrew Duncan is waiting for a heart and kidney transplant while his sister Allison, received a new heart in May 2013
Andrew Duncan is waiting for a heart and kidney transplant while his sister Allison, received a new heart in May 2013

A man who has a battery powered machine fitted to his heart to keep him alive has spoken of how he will take on "the biggest challenge" of his life to raise awareness of heart disease.

Andrew Duncan from Co Londonderry is waiting for a new heart and kidney.

The 37-year-old father-of-two was born with an inherited gene that led to him develop the life-threatening condition cardiomyopathy.

His father had the same condition which led to his untimely death at the age of 40.

The heart condition leaves Andrew barely able to walk at times, but this Friday he will take on a major challenge – describing it as "his marathon".

His plan is to walk around the city's Peace Bridge.

Andrew has organised his solo walk as part of the British Heart Foundation's Ramp Up the Red campaign and will mark the 14th anniversary of him being diagnosed.

It is one day to help raise funds for research into heart disease.

"It isn't very far, it is between the Peace Bridge and Craigavon Bridge in Londonderry," he said.

"It is a couple of miles. For anybody else with a low fitness level it is an easy walk, but for me it is like doing a marathon because there will be hills involved."

Diagnosed in 2001, he was placed on the transplant waiting list in 2011. He got the call to say a heart donor was found two years ago but unfortunately the transplant was unsuccessful.

"I got an offer of an organ. But unfortunately after they took the heart out there was a problem with the left ventricle and they couldn't transplant it.

"It is demoralising at the time. But it is like anything and you just learn to get on with it and take it as it comes."

The situation in 2012 led to surgeons being forced to operate to fit the machine around his heart to pump blood around his body.

"I was over in Newcastle waiting for the transplant.

"My window of opportunity was closing, is how they put it.

"And the only thing they could do was operate on me and fit a mechanical pump to my heart. It is battery powered. They put that in so I wouldn't die."

Complications led to Andrew being forced to spend a year in the hospital in Newcastle.

"I suffered from a brain haemorrhage and needed a chest drain. I was there for nearly a year. My wife Suzanne was amazing helping me get through it. I was so glad to get home."

He was later told that due to his heart condition his kidneys were failing and would need a transplant.

He said the condition has affected many members of his family.

"My dad Ernie died from the same condition when he was just 40 in 1982," he said.

"And the genetic condition also affected his sister Allison who received a heart transplant last year.

"My cousin has had a heart transplant and my uncle had a heart transplant – they all had the same condition.

"It will be a year in May since Allison, my sister had her transplant. She is doing really well."

Andrew now has to undergo 12 hours of dialysis a week but says he remains positive about getting his transplants.

"I am a very determined person. I will get the transplant. I don't let anything beat me. You just keep on fighting."

And he said his challenge on Friday is part of his fight.

FACTFILE

Cardiomyopathy can be acquired or inherited. 'Acquired' means you aren't born with the disease, but you develop it due to another disease, condition, or factor. In cardiomyopathy, the heart muscle becomes enlarged, thick, or rigid. In rare cases, the muscle tissue in the heart is replaced with scar tissue. As cardiomyopathy worsens the heart becomes weaker, which can be fatal.

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