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Dublin: 20°C Wednesday 6 July 2022

Column: 'My mum was dying. Her heart was failing. She was bedridden until she got a new heart'

Of all the things that companies are trying to flog this Valentine’s Day, the best gift is your heart. Your actual pound-of-flesh beating heart.

Sarah Todd

MY MUM WAS dying. Her heart was failing. She was bedridden in hospital and she wasn’t going anywhere until she got a new heart.

She had had to come off the organ transplant list due to a problem with her gallbladder. Each day she was off the list was a day longer we had to wait for a donor heart.

On Valentine’s Day, my Dad went to buy the love of his life a card and a balloon. Unsurprisingly he chose a heart-shaped one. He told the girl at the till the importance of this gift and that his wife was very poorly. It was the story that we had told so many people, that my mum’s heart was failing due to an inherited genetic heart condition called cardiomyopathy.

The balloon

Like so many others she was moved and she told my dad she didn’t have a donor card, but was now going to get one. My dad smiled as he walked out, card under his arm, holding tightly onto my mum’s heart.

That afternoon the Valentine’s balloon floated in the corner of my mum’s hospital room and the card sat on the windowsill. A shiny metal heart, given to her by her grandchildren, hung from her heart monitor, a tantalising reminder of what we were all waiting for.

She received another gift three days later, the allclear from the consultant regarding her gallbladder. This concluded she was healthy, as healthy as you could be with heart failure. This meant a big yes to going back onto the transplant list. The waiting began just then.

The Valentine’s balloon, joining in the celebration, danced in the corner of her room. Winter sun rays flooded in from the window.

My very ill mum

Pasted Image 0 Peter and Jenny Todd.

Too ill to see anyone else, it was my dad who saw my mum when her ICD first went off, shocking her heart back to life, starting a process that unfolded into a long and emotional three months. Later that afternoon the Valentine’s balloon, alongside my very ill mum, was being packed into an ambulance, to move to the specialist heart ward, ironically, to have a balloon pump implanted near her heart to help it continue its job.

Both the ambulance and hospital staff didn’t know what to make of my dad, almost comic like, trying to fit this very important Valentine’s balloon into an already full to bursting ambulance. But it was not going to be left behind. Unbeknown to all of us this symbol of hope had become very important to our family.

The procedure took place and the intra aortic balloon was placed to help her heart continue doing its job while her Valentine’s balloon was placed into the corner of her ICU room.

That night my dad arrived home with all of mum’s belongings stuffed into bags by the nurses. It was a sorry sight, her clothes, her jewellery, books, cards and her wedding ring. Everything was there, except the shiny metal heart, which still hung on her heart monitor, and the Valentine’s balloon.

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The third gift

The third gift arrived a few hours later, in the early hours of the following morning. An incredibly brave family had said yes to donating their loved one’s organs. My mum was going to receive their amazing heart.

It could not have arrived sooner. After a 6-hour surgery the long journey to recovery began. Throughout my mum’s journey this symbol of hope and love, the Valentine’s balloon, travelled with her. It danced about in the corner of her room in ICU. It floated in the corner of the HDU ward and it hung in the corner of her rehab room.

Slowly over time it began deflating. As my mum got stronger the heart shaped Valentine’s balloon got weaker, smaller. Each day sinking down and losing its energy until one day it was lovingly brought home, just as it was brought in, held tightly by my dad, and put in a safe place.

Thanks to our donor my mum gets to celebrates these incredible extra years of life, and I get to celebrate still having my mum.


Sarah Todd is the daughter of a heart transplant recipient and is a keen advocate for organ donation. Her mum, Jenny Todd, who lives in Enniskerry, underwent a heart transplant at the Mater Hospital  in early 2015. Jenny is enjoying a full and active life with her husband Peter again, and she enjoys horse riding.
You can get an organ donor card by visiting the Irish Kidney Association website or the word Donor to 50050 (free text).  You can also indicate your wishes on your driver’s licence represented by code 115, or download a donor card on your smartphone by searching for Ecard.  Organ Donor Awareness Week will take place from 1-8 April.


About the author:

Sarah Todd

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