“I had to fight for my life,” was one of the first things Michael said when we spoke to him. Michael was a patient at Harefield Hospital, and he took the time to share with us his incredible story of devastating illness and his determination to rebuild his strength.

Michael George was born with dilated cardiomyopathy, an enlarged heart. “I never thought it was a problem because when you’re young nothing bothers you,” he said.

Unfortunately, from the year 2000 his health started to decline and in 2012 King’s College Hospital inserted an ICD to save Michael’s life. “If you don’t put this in you, you will die,” Michael was told at the time. The procedure was a success and between the ICD and medication, Michael was able to manage his condition.

Over the next few years, Michael was very physically active. He took part in cross country bike rides, went to the gym for several hours up to six times a week, swum, walked, and took part in other physical activities. Michael’s medication was able to support his active lifestyle.

Then tragedy struck. In November 2021, Michael caught Covid-19 and became very unwell. He said:

I went from fit to a skeleton in a matter of weeks

His weight dramatically fell from 109kg, down to 52kg. His decline was so severe that he was taken to hospital, struggling to breathe.

Whilst in hospital, Michael continued his fight against Covid-19. At one point his heart stopped. “It stopped for like a minute or so, but it felt like a lifetime,” Michael said. The NHS staff were able to restart his heart, but Michael still needed to battle hard against Covid-19. Michael said:

I felt like I was swimming in the darkest water, and I couldn’t see the light

Michael was scared for his life. When his wife and son visited him, he told them “I wasn’t going to make it” but his wife said: “He had to fight for his son.” He needed a transfer to Harefield Hospital, where he could receive specialist care for both Covid-19 and dilated cardiomyopathy. However, Harefield didn’t have any spare beds due to the demands of the pandemic.

As Michael’s condition worsened, it became clear that he would die if Harefield didn’t help him, so he was rushed over. He needed to be quarantined beforehand. “It was frightening, but good to know that I was alive,” Michael said.

When at Harefield, a consultant broke the difficult news to Michael that he was suffering from severe heart failure and needed to be fitted with a Left Ventricular Assist Device, or LVAD, to pump blood around his body.

The consultant cardiac surgeon said:

If you don’t get an LVAD, you will die.

Royal Brompton and Harefield’s website describes an LVAD as “a pump that is used to help the heart circulate blood around the body. It is attached to the heart in patients with advanced heart failure.” The website also says that an LVAD is a long-term treatment that can be a bridge to a heart transplant or recovery.

The operation to fit the LVAD went well, although Michael woke up with terrible chest pains from where he had been operated on. However, Michael was mainly glad to be alive. “I was even much more understanding about life and living and circumstances.”

Michael fought Covid-19 and won, but the fight against the disease took a heavy toll on his health. He couldn’t walk and had to use a wheelchair. “It was hard. It was difficult not seeing my son and my wife. There was a battle for my soul and the good angels won. That’s why I am here today.” He also said that: “Technology saved my life, and I'm happy that I can see both of them working hand in hand.”

Michael paid tribute to staff at Harefield who cared for him. He said: “The care that I got was second to none. Wow what a hospital.” He added:

The staff I'll always have gratitude for. There are some really hard working people who are like, right, I'm a doctor or I'm a nurse, this is my job and it's my duty.

Michael had survived Covid-19 and the operation, but then there was a long journey to rebuild his strength. “Just to get off the bed and stand was like fighting two tigers at the same time.”

He kept up his physio programme and pushed himself to rebuild his strength. It took almost a year to recover. “It was tough, but I survived it,” Michael said. He added that it took determination to get his strength back. Through physio and exercising at the gym he went from 52kg when he was ill to 98kg. “I’m back to my old self.”

Now, Michael is working with NHS staff to motivate other LVAD patients and help them get better. “I will do anything for you guys. You guys kept me alive.” He is also working on building up his strength ahead of having a heart transplant in the future.

Michael wants to share his story of his epic fight against illness and his determination to rebuild his strength to motivate other patients.

My personality is being happy. When I get up every day, I am happy. I'm a survivor.

Part of Michael’s work to help other people who have LVADs or who have suffered from heart failure has led him to create a support group, where patients can meet and mutually assist each other on their journey to recovery. He also wants to improve support for people with heart conditions in the workplace. “Employers need to be aware, and they shouldn’t stigmatise,” Michael said.

His support group is called Resilience: No apology. "No Apology can be powerful. It can showcase people with heart failure, emphasizing their strength and resilience. It signifies a refusal to apologize for their condition and serves as a statement of empowerment. It represents a mindset of acceptance and determination to live life to the fullest despite the challenges of heart failure,” Michael said.

If you would like to find out more about Resilience: No Apology, then visit their page on Facebook.

If you would like to help critically ill Harefield Hospital patients, like Michael, then please donate via the link below to the Harefield Haemodialysis appeal: