HOW TO SAVE A LIFE: Acting organ donation specialist nurse, Karen Jenner with grateful heart transplant recipients and Bundy locals, Jeffrey Kirkman and Bev Cooke.
HOW TO SAVE A LIFE: Acting organ donation specialist nurse, Karen Jenner with grateful heart transplant recipients and Bundy locals, Jeffrey Kirkman and Bev Cooke. Rhylea Millar

Former fitness fanatic opens up about heart transplant

ANYONE who first meets Jeffrey Kirkman and Bev Cooke would be shocked to hear that they received a heart transplant.

The two Bundy locals are the perfect depiction of health and their warmth and kindness shows that their hearts have always been full.

Before Mr Kirkman suffered from a heart attack, he was a fitness fanatic and would often put others to shame.

"Being President of Brothers touch football club, I was always pretty fit and I was also refereeing and cycling to work," he said.

"I remember when I called to tell people what happened, no body believed it and they laughed and hung up, so I had to call them back to say I wasn't joking and went on to explain from there."

After the single father of boys had a heart attack at 49, he recovered quicker than most and was able to resume work, but had to sacrifice his beloved exercise regime.

When part of his heart started to slowly deteriorate, it meant it was unable to pump enough oxygen, causing physical exertion to occur quicker than usual.

"It got to the stage where I couldn't even walk 20 metres down the road and I would have to stop because I would get this horrible chest pain," Mr Kirkman said.

He was later given an artificial heart and at 61-years old, received a heart transplant, 12 long years after his battle began.

Similarly, Ms Cooke was also following a healthy lifestyle when the grandmother of seven was told what was causing irregular medical results.

"I used to go into hospital all the time for atrial fibrillation and I was finally told that I had heart failure and cardiac occupy," she said.

"A normal heart pumps at about 75 per cent but mine was only pumping at 11 per cent.

"They say you can get it from an excessive bleed, over-exercising as a child or a viral infection, well I had all three."

Ms Cooke was eventually placed on the list, where she waited for 18 months.

During this time, she received five calls on separate occasions, four of which were deemed unsuccessful due to incompatibility or function failure.

As a heart transplant has to be performed within seven hours, Ms Cooke was transported to Brisbane by midnight and prepared for theatre on all five occasions, a repetitive and emotionally taxing hurdle that only the bravest could overcome.

While Ms Cooke was in the midst of her own health battle, tragedy struck the family again, as her husband became sick and passed away.

"You do a lot of meditating to get through it all and even though I had lost my husband, I just kept thinking about my family," Ms Cooke said.

In 2008, Ms Cooke received what would be her final call and while she was eternally grateful, the magnitude of what the donor's family were experiencing is not lost on her.

"When I got the call, I remember thinking 'you bloody beauty' but then I found out my donor was a parent to four," she said.

"How do you say 'thank you for giving me the gift of life but I'm also so sorry that you have just lost your parent'."

Following the procedure, Ms Cooke had limited time to exhale a sigh of relief, as doctors found a blood clot the size of a fist behind Ms Cooke's heart.

The now healthier duo will continue to take anti-rejection medications and need to apply extra caution when exposed to general illnesses.

When Ms Cooke was hospitalised, patients in their 20s were also admitted for the same reason and Mr Kirkman mentors two young men, aged just 19 and 22, who are currently waiting for a transplant.