Richard’s Story

Russell and wifeI was born on the 27th May 1975 in Tasmania and was diagnosed with a congenital heart condition called Truncus Arteriosus. As the Tasmanian Bridge had been knocked down by a yacht called the Lake Illawarra in January of 1975, the only way that I could get across the river for life saving surgery was on a barge. My first operation was performed at the age of six days old and this surgery lasted me four years. I was then strong enough to have my first open heart operation at the age of four on 1st May 1979 at the Camperdown Sydney Hospital.  I am very proud to say that I am one of the oldest patients with Truncus Arteriosus in the world, and I believe that I am the oldest in Australia living with my condition.

I managed to complete primary school, although some parts of my primary school days were hard, because I was away sick.  I couldn’t do any major physical activity such as contact sports, and I couldn’t run very far or fast which was frustrating at times.  I managed to complete primary school, which was my first real milestone.

My Mum and Dad decided to move to Canberra in the year of 1988, when I started my high school years, mainly so we could be closer to the Sydney Camperdown Hospital, where I had checkups every year and ended up having more surgery there.  During my younger years, I was lucky to have a cardiologist by the name of Dr John Celemajer.  At the start of the Christmas and New Year holidays in 1989, I was having golf lessons and I noticed that I started to feel unwell again.  My family and I went to Sydney to see what was wrong and it was decided that I needed to have my second open heart operation at the age of thirteen. I remember that this was a difficult time for me, as we had just moved to Canberra, and I had just started high school, so I was going to be away from school for a while.  Luckily I had already made some great friends who really cared about me, and I am still friends with some of them today.

I was doing really well for a number of years and in March 2001, I started to notice the same symptoms – running out of breath, being tired constantly and even falling asleep at my computer during lunch, and my bosses sent me home because they could see how pale I was.  They didn’t realise, and neither did I, that I wouldn’t be returning back to work for a few months.

We went to Sydney again, and it was decided that I needed to have my third open heart surgery the following week.  I was so shocked, scared and surprised and didn’t expect it to happen. On the 20th March 2001 I was operated on and then released from hospital within a week, which is just totally amazing.  My cardiologist now is Dr David Celemajaer (the son of my previous doctor – Dr John Celemajaer, who unfortunately passed away a number of years ago). I am so privileged to have Dr David Celemajer now as my cardiologist, and this year he was awarded an Order of Australia.

I was going okay for a few months and then one morning I woke up and I was covered in sweat.  I was shaking and could hardly stand up. I almost fainted and decided to ring Mum and Dad, who came and picked me up from my friend’s house.  After a day or two in hospital the doctors diagnosed me with an infection in my heart called Endocarditis.

Richard and sisterEndocarditis was a horrible thing to go through.  I was placed on a Hickman’s line for six weeks which was pumping Penicillin into my body every four hours.  I had to have ‘nurses in the home’ to come and take care of me for about a month; they had to come every day to reload my Penicillin and do a few other tests on me each day.  During that time I relied on them because they gave me reassurance that I was going to be okay.  During my times of illness I have been very lucky to have such a great team of medical staff supporting me.

All of my surgery dates remain very special and close to my heart, but I believe that we should always look back and reflect on important milestone dates in our life and families.

I am now happily married to a beautiful woman by the name of Rhianna Lockett and my heart now is filled with heaps of love, which I thought would never happen to me.

I know I will have to have more surgery soon, probably within the next year or two, but I have survived three open heart surgeries and I’m sure hoping the fourth one will be just as good as my first three.

Lastly I would like to thank my immediate family – Mum (Elizabeth Lockett), Dad (David Lockett) and sister (Claire Ellwood) – without their help, support, care and love, I would not be the person who I am today.

Victoria & Tasmania