health

Model Bec Craven returned from Bali with a mystery virus, soon after she required a heart transplant.

Three years ago, model Bec Craven was given what she thought was a death sentence. Now she is an inspiration to many, with a successful heart transplant and a flourishing modelling career.

Here is her story:

I was 24, had just had a holiday in Bali, and was planning to move to Cairns to study marine biology and then travel the world. Heart failure was not in my storybook. It wasn’t supposed to happen.

I’d returned from Bali at the end of 2013 with a mystery virus. I kept getting worse and I could barely walk 50 metres. I was diagnosed with pneumonia but ended up in hospital after I collapsed. One of the doctors listened to my chest and ordered an echocardiogram to check my heart function.

They kept me in intensive care overnight and by the morning they’d told me I had heart failure.

Being told my heart was failing and I could have a shortened life was horrific. It shattered my dreams and my goals and I don’t think my family or I could comprehend at first how serious it was.

We were all in shock.

Bec Craven talks about the day she found out she needed a heart transplant with Mia Freedman on Non Filter: 

I was transferred to Brisbane’s Prince Charles Hospital and it hit me really, really hard. It was absolutely devastating. My heart kept deteriorating and after eight months they started talking about a transplant. It all seemed surreal. The doctors couldn’t put a timeframe on the transplant but people can wait up to two years.

In the next month my heart deteriorated again and the doctors said I’d need a mechanical heart as a bridge to transplant.

Without a mechanical heart they gave me two weeks to live. They placed a metal pump in the left side of my heart to pump the blood. There was a wire protruding from my stomach that went into a laptop-looking bag with two batteries. You have that on 24/7.

Mechanical hearts had only been invented 10 years earlier so thank goodness this happened when it did. But the mechanical heart was really restrictive. I couldn’t shower properly. I couldn’t go swimming. I had to have someone looking after me 24/7. I was at the hospital twice a week and I couldn’t be more than two hours away from the hospital at any time.

While I waited for my new heart I had to keep myself busy or my mind would run away and I’d get very down. I started drawing and painting a lot, I listened to so much music, and I watched a lot of movies and TV shows. I bought fish to keep me entertained! I also have a dog and he was a massive help. But I missed out on a lot of things in life – concerts, parties, swimming, travel, driving.

A post shared by Bec Craven (@beccraven) on

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Every day was a struggle with bad thoughts. Waiting for something with an unknown date is the hardest thing ever, but it was out of my control and out of the doctors’ control. I spoke to a psychologist nearly every day to help with my depression and anxiety, and I was on anti-depressants.

One day I was having my routine checks when they told me they had a potential organ. It felt like a dream. It certainly didn’t feel real.

There are lots of factors with everything having to match so I didn’t want to get too excited. That night I was losing hope as my transplant kept getting delayed. While I waited in the ward, I couldn’t stop thinking that someone had died and their family had chosen to donate their organ. I wondered what had happened to them.

Eventually, one of the transplant nurses came in and said, “It’s a goer, let’s go.” And then it happened really quickly.

I wasn’t terrified until I got to the theatre doors. Then it felt real.

After my heart transplant I felt like absolute crap. I was in surgery for 12 hours and lost a lot of blood. I was thinking, “Oh my god, I got this mechanical heart and I ended up feeling great and now I have the gift I’ve been wanting for so long and I feel like I have to start all over again.”

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My recovery was extremely hard. I had many complications that were nothing to do with my heart, nerve damage from the operation and allergic reactions to some of the medication. My kidneys had shut down and I was having dialysis.

When they eventually said I could go home, after a month in hospital, I didn’t want to leave. I’m an anxious person and the hospital was my comfort zone. It was scary not having the doctors there. What if something went wrong?

The doctors asked me what was the first thing I was going to do and I said, “I’m going to have a bath.” For me, water is like therapy. I’m such a beach girl. I want total immersion.

Once I got home I really recovered. My family was amazing. Throughout everything they stayed very strong in front of me, but on the inside they were absolutely dying. I have a younger brother who doesn’t really show his emotions much but I know he was very upset.

After my first open heart surgery I hated my scar. It made me cry and I used to ask the nurses to cover it with a bandage. But over time, and going back mentally on what has happened, I feel like Xena the Warrior Princess. When I look at myself in the mirror it’s not like, “Oh my god, look at that scar.” I think about what I’ve been through and think how strong I am. Now I’m not afraid to show my scar.

Listen to Mia Freedman’s full interview with Bec Craven on No Filter: 

A lot of people message me on Instagram saying, “You’re an inspiration. I have always hidden my scar because I’m ashamed of it.”

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That, to me, makes me want to do what I’m doing. I love inspiring people like that, not necessarily anyone who has had a heart transplant and has the zipper scar but anyone with imperfections.

I love the wow factor, too. Someone asked me about the scar at dinner recently and I said, “I just had a heart transplant last year.” People look at me and they are like, “You don’t look like you have had a heart transplant” and I like that. It’s good to change people’s perceptions.

Before my heart problems I never in a million years thought about organ donation. It just didn’t cross my mind. I don’t push it now but I say to people, “Well this is my story and this is how it saved my life.” I hope that inspires them and they consider registering and discussing it with their families.

Now, I really believe I’m living this life for myself and my donor. I don’t find it difficult at all now to think I have someone else’s heart. I just think we are soulmates.
I have similar dreams to what I had before. Some of them have been twisted a little and some have been outright squashed.

I still want to travel the world but now I just want to travel the world being an inspiring model who’s crushing the typical “model-like” persona. I want to prove to the world that imperfections are beautiful and nothing can stop you. You are as strong as what the world makes you.

If you are willing to save lives as an organ and tissue donor, then make your decision count. Join the Australian Organ Donor Register online today at donatelife.gov.au, and discuss your decision with your family and friends.

 

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