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Heart transplant: ‘My donor and their family were wonderful angels who gave me the gift of life’

Mary Broderick has had a long road to travel from a heart murmur since infancy to receiving a new heart with various other surgeries along the way

We’ve all experienced dizziness and a racing heart, but, most of the time, these symptoms are attributed to a particular activity, illness or even overexertion.

However, for Mary Broderick, these physical feelings are part and parcel of her daily life. Born with a heart murmur, she believed these issues were simply something she had to live with. Following tests, though, it was discovered that she had a genetic heart condition.

“For the first 20 years of my life I didn’t have any symptoms or issues, as my parents didn’t want me to do any physical work, so they basically wrapped me up in cotton wool,” she says. “But when I was in my early 20s and began working in the hospitality industry, I began having problems and would get dizzy and light-headed if I did anything strenuous or got stressed. On numerous occasions, my heart would race so fast that I would need emergency intervention at the local hospital or would end up in coronary care as they tried to regulate my heart.

After a number of tests at the Mater hospital, I was put on the transplant list as at that stage my quality of life was really poor and I was failing fast

“I was put on beta blockers and blood thinners to try and sort this out and was then referred to a cardiologist in Dublin where I spent a lot of time in the 1990s while they tried to figure out exactly what was wrong with me. I was eventually diagnosed with a heart condition called Hypertrophy Obstructive Cardiomyopathy, which is a thickening of the heart muscle. And further investigations revealed that I also had a genetic condition called Noonan Syndrome, which is caused because an X chromosome is missing. I also learned that my heart condition was a symptom of this syndrome.”


For many years, the 54 year old lived a relatively normal life with the help of medication and regular hospital appointments, but then things became complicated when she developed a virus which caused some damage to her heart and, shockingly, she was told that she would need a heart transplant.

“I was referred to Prof Kevin Walsh at the Mater hospital in Dublin, who specialises in congenital heart conditions,” she says. “He put me on different medications so I could have a better quality of life and this worked very well until I contracted a virus in the heart called myocarditis, which is an inflammation of the heart – this led to me spending a week in intensive care and three weeks in the coronary unit back in Limerick. Following this, my medication changed and I was put on Warfarin.

“The onset of the virus did a lot of damage to the heart and my health was impacted in a very big way as I couldn’t walk very far or climb the stairs. Also, my appetite decreased significantly and I felt nauseous all the time so this caused me to lose a lot of weight.

The surgery was a complete success thanks to surgeon Jonathan McGuinness and his fantastic team at the Mater hospital, where I spent 6½ weeks after the operation and threw myself into the recovery physio

“Then, in early 2016, Prof Walsh discussed the idea of a heart transplant with me as it was the only option left to me – so, after undergoing a number of tests at the Mater hospital, I was put on the transplant list in May of that year, as at that stage my quality of life was really poor and I was failing fast.”

Waiting to be called for a transplant can be a stressful time but, fortunately, the Limerick woman didn’t have to wait long as she got the phone call just three months later. “I honestly didn’t think I would ever get a call, but just as I was going to bed on the night of August 24th, 2016, I got the all-important news from my transplant co-ordinator, Elaine, that there was a heart waiting for me,” she says. “I was in shock and don’t recall much of that night, but with the grace of God I was a perfect match. My donor and their family were wonderful angels who gave me the gift of life, while they were going through the most tragic of circumstances and I will be forever grateful for their kindness.

“Fortunately, the surgery was a complete success thanks to surgeon Jonathan McGuinness and his fantastic team at the Mater hospital, where I spent 6½ weeks after the operation and threw myself into the recovery physio. I could feel the difference the new heart made straight away and the transformation of my health was immense. The pounding and irregular heart beats in my chest had gone, my appetite had come back and so had my strength and energy – I felt like I could take on the world.”

But despite the success of her surgery, Mary’s good news didn’t last long as, six months after the transplant, she awoke to terrible back and stomach pain. She was taken to her local hospital for tests and it was thought that she may have had a cyst or even a tumour. But she was then transferred back to the Dublin hospital and there it was discovered that she had a “mass of blood” in the womb.

“I was sent straight to theatre for a hysterectomy, during which they found early onset cancer cells in the lining of the womb,” she says. “Thankfully, all of these were removed and I didn’t require further treatment. But unfortunately my luck hadn’t changed completely as, a few days later, the team discovered that I had a twisted bowel and had to go back for further surgery which resulted in part of the bowel being removed. Which meant that I needed a stoma and a bag. And with these two surgeries, I spent a month in hospital.”

Although recovery from three major surgeries was difficult, particularly when combined with the underlying genetic condition, Mary is doing well today, despite having had to give up the job she loved in the hospitality industry. “Being from a very rural area, I experienced a real sense of loneliness when I had to give up my job as I didn’t have that to focus on,” she says.

“I developed anxiety and felt isolated and it took me quite some time to feel positive again. But having said that, I am now doing well and I go up to the Mater hospital every three months, mainly so they can keep an eye on my transplant, but also to check on the stoma. These days I am continuing to focus on the future and look after my health while finding the best way forward.

“I would like to express my sincere gratitude to the Mater hospital, to all the surgeons, doctors, nurses, physios and all the other wonderful staff who have helped me over the years. Their professionalism and kindness is in a class of its own, and I will be forever in their debt.”


  • According to the Irish Heart Foundation, cardiomyopathy is a medical term used to explain that there is a heart (cardio) muscle (myo) disorder or problem (pathy).
  • It affects people of all ages and is often an inherited condition, caused by a genetic abnormality, and several family members can be affected.
  • Because it affects the heart muscle, it can affect the size and shape of the heart, and the thickness of the muscle wall. This then makes it more difficult for the heart to pump blood to all parts of the body.
  • In the early stages, there may be no apparent signs or symptoms but, as the condition advances, they usually appear. They can vary from person to person and include:
  1. Breathlessness with exertion or even at rest, caused by fluid on the lungs
  2. Swelling of the legs, ankles and feet, due to fluid retention
  3. Stomach bloating, also due to fluid retention
  4. A cough while lying down
  5. Fatigue, due to low oxygen levels
  6. Irregular heartbeats which feel rapid, pounding or fluttering
  7. Chest pain
  8. Dizziness, light-headedness and fainting
  • While the condition is often genetic, there are a number of risk factors which include:
  1. Family history
  2. High blood pressure
  3. Heart attack, coronary artery disease or viral infections which have affected the heart
  4. Alcoholism
  5. Illicit drug use
  6. Certain chemotherapy drugs and radiation used for cancer treatment
  7. Metabolic diseases such as diabetes or thyroid disorders
  8. Diseases which can damage the heart such as amyloidosis (a build-up of abnormal protein), sarcoidosis (inflammation), or haemochromatosis (a build-up of excessive iron)
  9. Connective tissue disorders.

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Arlene Harris

Arlene Harris

Arlene Harris is a contributor to The Irish Times specialising in health, lifestyle, parenting, travel and human interest stories