Aarti J Narsee
DOCTORS predicted that she wouldn’t make it past the age of seven, but Tina Beckbessinger, 31, proved them all wrong.
Beckbessinger is the sixth person in South Africa to have undergone double lung and heart transplant surgery – but the only one to have survived.
Born with congenital cardiac disease – including a missing tricuspid valve, three holes, narrowed arteries, and a fast and irregular heartbeat – Beckbessinger, of Durban, has been in and out of hospitals all her life.
She was fitted with a pacemaker at the age of 13 but as she got older her condition did not improve. In her second year of university Beckbessinger was forced to give up her studies.
“I would sleep for 18 to 20 hours a day and my mum would check on me regularly to see if I was still breathing,” she said.
In 2009 her name was placed on the transplant waiting list. She recalls the phone call two years later, confirming the availability of the three organs that gave her a new lease on life.
Beckbessinger’s cardiothoracic surgeon, Dr Robert Kleinloog, and his team had to race against the clock to collect the organs, assess their viability, do a tissue match and make sure they were the right size to fit exactly into her chest.
She describes what she felt after waking up from surgery: “Being able to breathe in deeply … the oxygen in my lungs was the most incredible feeling.”
It has been 18 months since the transplant and today Beckbessinger feels “superhuman”.
Although she is not fit enough this year, she hopes to participate in the World Transplant Games soon. “The world is my oyster and I am no longer limited as to what I can do.”