Transplant recipients will forever be grateful to their donors for giving them a second chance at life, and Joe Matthews is no exception. After receiving a life-saving heart transplant Joe made his donor a promise to live his life to the fullest for the both of them. Honouring his donor by making the most of being given a second chance, Joe, despite having been told he would have to take it easy for the rest of his life, has defied all expectations and actually completed his first marathon just one year after his operation.
Originally complaining of breathlessness whilst studying in California, an X-ray revealed that he had Cardiomyopathy, which meant his heart was dangerously enlarged. Also showing fluid on his lungs, Joe failed to respond to treatment and doctors eventually discovered arrhythmia, or an irregular heartbeat that was gradually slowing to nothing.
After having a defibrillator fitted to shock his heart back into action should it stop at any point, doctors tried to test the device by slowing his heart rate down. Rather than slowing down however, his heart actually stopped beating and he was declared clinically dead for five minutes whilst doctors battled to save him.
At just 18 years old, Joe had suffered complete heart failure and would die without a transplant. Celebrating his nineteenth birthday in hospital, a month later thankfully a donor was found. Joe left hospital just two weeks after his transplant and has surprised everyone by refusing to take it easy; during his recovery he wrote the donor’s family a letter:
‘I didn’t know anything about the donor but I wanted to let the family know that their loved one would get a good life out of me. I owed it to both of us to make the most of the amazing second chance the donor had given me.’
With hobbies amongst others including surfing, snowboarding and mountain biking, Joe is thought to be he fastest man in Britain on his second heart after he completed the 100 metres in just 11.6 seconds, and all this just four years after his transplant. However, rugby is Joe’s main passion in life and the one hobby doctors were most concerned about him participating in post-transplant. Undeterred, Joe cites playing his first game for Doncaster Phoenix RFU in 2010 as the proudest moment since he had his operation.
Having completed the London Marathon twice since his transplant, as well as representing Britain on the track in the World Transplant Games and the British snowboarding team in the World Winter Transplant Games, Joe will let nothing stop him. His transplant has even lead him to love, and he now lives in Nottinghamshire with his teacher girlfriend Hannah Lilley, who’s own father David underwent a kidney transplant. Joe’s transplant experience is best summed up by the man himself, as he so eloquently puts it:
‘Now I finally feel the heart belongs to me because I have made it my own, but I believe living life to the max is the only fitting tribute I can pay my donor for making it possible.’
Let’s hope others sign up to be donors and are able to give people like Joe the chance to show the world just what they can do in the future.