Colleen is a former fitness instructor who has type I diabetes and was fit and healthy until signs of heart disease – a major complication of diabetes – developed in her 40s. She underwent a heart transplant in 2017, but things didn’t quite go to plan. After the operation, she spent 4 days on life support, connected to 14 different machines that were keeping her alive, because the new heart wouldn’t start.
“I woke up on day five. They asked, ‘How are you?’ I said, ‘Good, but I can’t see’. It had never happened before.”
Colleen suffered ischemic optic neuropathy, a very rare condition in which blood loss permanently damages the optic nerves that send signals from the eyes to the brain, enabling sight. She now has only 5% peripheral vision, but that didn’t bother her. She had a whole new start to life!
Colleen was in hospital for six weeks after the operation. Not long after that, she started walking, and later added weight training. Then she found out she could swim and she hasn’t stopped since! About six months after her surgery she found out about the Australian Transplant Games which provided her with a goal to aim for. “I have enough peripheral vision to swim so I thought I could compete and it really helped get me through,” said Colleen.
Colleen took home three gold medals from the 2018 Australian Transplant Games and is now looking forward to competing in the 2023 World Transplant Games in her hometown of Perth.
“I’m excited to go to the Games. To meet other people whose lives have been changed by organ donors and have a good time. And I can’t wait for the chance to share with people how beautiful Perth is. Come along, you will love it!”
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