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‘I felt like I was going to die’: Recovering from early heart failure at the age of 36

Mohammed Ladfil, a father of three living in Cork, got ‘another chance at life’ after undergoing a heart transplant in the Mater hospital

With no history of health problems and a busy, active life, the very notion that he might get sick had never entered Mohammed Ladfil’s mind.

So, when he developed a series of recurring chest infections during the summer of 2023, he went to his GP, who, each time prescribed medication. But instead of curing his symptoms, they appeared to get worse and one night he found himself struggling to breathe, so his partner called an ambulance, and he was rushed to hospital.

It was here that tests were undertaken and, to his shock, he was told he had all the signs of early onset heart failure.

He was kept in for two weeks while doctors tried to get the situation under control – and then referred to the Mater hospital in Dublin for further examination and treatment. “Before this happened, I had never been in hospital in my life, but in May of last year I started developing chest infections and, each time I went to my GP, I would be put on a course of antibiotics, but nothing was clearing up,” he says. “Myself and my partner, Niamhmarie, and our three young children, went on a holiday in July and when we got back, I really didn’t feel right. I had no energy to go back to work and would spend the time just lying in bed with no energy, feeling moody and unable to sleep.


“Then one night, I couldn’t breathe and started to really panic, I felt like I was going to die, and it wasn’t long before I found myself in the emergency department of our local hospital. After doing some scans and tests, doctors said that my heart was very large and my heartbeat was huge and that is why I wasn’t able to breathe. They said I could possibly have heart failure, but, these days, there are a lot of things which could be done to help it. They wondered if it could be genetic and asked if anyone in my family had problems like this, but I said no.

“I was put on a course of medication to help things, but there wasn’t really any improvement, and I was very scared. Then after a couple of weeks, I was moved to hospital in Dublin where I underwent a number of other tests and had some changes done to my medication.”

Mohammed, who is originally from Morocco but has been living in Passage West in Cork for the past 17 years, began to feel better and was hopeful he would soon be able to return home. And, although his medical team was still concerned about the cause of his heart failure, because his symptoms had begun to improve, he was discharged back to Cork, where he was advised to continue his medication and attend medical appointments closer to home where he would be monitored carefully.

This seemed like a step in the right direction, but as he still didn’t feel in good health, a decision was made to insert a device to help regulate his heart. However, before this procedure could happen, his condition further deteriorated, and he was given the shocking news that he would need a heart transplant.

“When I returned home to Cork, I didn’t seem to be getting better as I was still exhausted all the time, my blood pressure was very low and I was having trouble sleeping,” he says. “So, it was decided that the next step would be to insert an ICD (implantable cardioverter defibrillator) on September 29th to help regulate my heart. But when I went into the hospital for the procedure, they ran more tests and discovered that my condition had deteriorated further so the ICD was not going to work.

“So, three days later, I was transferred back to the Mater hospital and after a meeting with doctors there, I was told that, because I wasn’t responding to any of the medication I had been on, my best chance of recovery would be a heart transplant.”

This news was very upsetting for the 36-year-old as he began to worry about his mortality and the stress the whole event was putting on his family, both in Ireland and at home in Morocco and he agonised over the possibility that he may not be there for them in the future.

He was put on the heart transplant waiting list and the time passed very slowly as he waited for the call that would tell him a match had been found. “I was very nervous as the fear kicked in and I worried about whether I would get a heart on time or if I would even survive the surgery,” he says. “I was in a very dark place, both mentally and physically and I kept thinking about Niamhmarie and the kids and also my parents, who are elderly and live in Morocco and I was worrying if they would be all right. Then, after undergoing a number of tests, I was officially put on the transplant waiting list for a heart and it wasn’t long before I got my first call.

“It was after midnight when a doctor called into me [on the ward] and said that they had a possible heart for me, and they would need to get me ready. I went through all sorts of emotions as they took blood and prepped me for the possibility of surgery – my mind was racing with it all. But then, after all the preparation, at 6am the next morning, I was told that the heart wasn’t a suitable match for me and although, I had been very anxious about the operation, it was hard not to be upset.

“But I knew that my time would come, and two weeks later, the doctor came to see me once again to tell me that there was the possibility of a heart for me. Once more, the prep started and I called Niamhmarie, who drove up from Cork to be there with me. I kind of knew that this time it would go ahead as it sort of felt different and at 4am, it was confirmed that the heart was suitable, and I would have the surgery.

“It was very emotional as I kissed Niamhmarie goodbye, but although I felt nervous and fearful, I was also happy that this was happening and that I would get another chance at life.”

Thankfully, for the father of three, the transplant operation was a success and after five days in the intensive care unit (ICU), his medical team brought him around slowly and welcomed him back to the world.

He was “exhausted but relieved” and 10 days after the surgery, he was transferred from ICU to the transplant care ward where he stayed until he was well enough to go home in time for Christmas.

Today, he is recovering well and remains indebted to his donor who had given him a second chance of life. “I am so grateful to the donor and their family who have given me a chance to life,” he says. “I also can’t thank the Mater hospital enough for all they have done for me, especially the transplant team who were just amazing. My recovery is going well and for me, my life began again with the transplant – the day it happened is like a new birthday for me – my Irish one.”