A Foxton woman's heart condition left her with two months to live, but a "miracle" arrived just in time.

Kerry Hughes suffered from the same genetic heart condition that took her mother at age 43.

Hughes is married with three adult daughters, two of whom also suffer from hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, which results in a thickening of the heart muscle wall.

Symptoms vary from none to feeling tired, swollen leg, shortness of breath, chest pain, fainting, and in severe cases, heart failure, irregular heartbeat, and sudden cardiac death.


At age 59, Hughes could barely walk and was told she had two months left to live.

She was on the heart transplant waiting list, but there was difficulty in finding a heart suitable for her.

As her health deteriorated, Hughes waited.

After three months on the list, she got the call.

With less than six hours on the clock for the operation, Hughes jumped on the first flight to Auckland, but nothing had prepared her for the moment reality hit, that this new heart was a gift given by a grieving family.

"I was fortunate... I'm so grateful to my donor and their family because without them I wouldn't be here now," she said.

"A heart is one of the most precious gifts you could receive or give."

"I was going to Auckland with the prospect of a new life, but at the same time there was a family who was going through the worst time of their lives, having to make the decision [to switch off life support and donate their loved one's organs]," she said.


A donor must be on life support and brain dead to be eligible to donate, meaning their family is left with the decision.

"I was thinking about that but also with some excitement, it was possible I might have more life than a few weeks ahead of me."

The moment she woke from surgery she knew life had changed. Before the transplant, she was constantly aware of her thickened heart beating.

"I could hear it in my ear and feel it in my neck and chest all the time."

When Hughes woke up from surgery, her new heart was silent, healthy and normal.

"I woke up and I couldn't feel my heart beating."

After 12 days in ICU and another 12 days in a hospital ward, her transplant was a success, but the journey had only just begun.

"The first time in physio I managed one minute on the treadmill... I thought I was going to die I was just so worn out," she said.

Six months on, and after intensive rehabilitation, Hughes is feeling better than ever and even tackled the two hour Manawatū Gorge Loop walk.

"I've not felt this well at any time in my adult life, and it is so refreshing... it makes life exciting."

She still takes every precaution to look after her new heart and will take anti-rejection drugs for the rest of her life.

Something that she says is a small price to pay.

"To me, it's nothing short of a miracle, it's given me a life."

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