Graeme Truby-Surety’s life has started to resemble a new normal following almost five months in hospital. His illness, initially an untreatable cough, led to Graeme being placed on the urgent transplant list for a new heart.

A cough which didn't budge

We all thought it was just a cough," said Graeme's wife, Sam, "but this cough didn’t want to budge even with antibiotics and cough medicine.

In just a few weeks, Graeme went from running around with their three-year-old son, Leo, to lacking the energy to move out of bed. Eventually, they had no choice but to go to A&E. They were initially told that there was a problem with his liver and rounds of tests were carried out, all of which came back clear. 

An electrocardiogram showed blood clots in Graeme’s heart. The clots would have been restricting the flow of blood around his heart and out to his body, which brought about his symptoms of breathlessness and the cough.

Graeme was then taken to his nearest specialist centre where he was kept on ICU. Clinicians fought to keep him stable as his condition continued to deteriorate. "They told us Graeme had heart failure and had between a 20 and 30% chance of survival. This is when Harefield opened their arms and took his case on," Sam said, "but we weren’t to know how much of a rollercoaster he was going to be on."

Arriving at Harefield Hospital

Within four days at Harefield, Graeme moved from Rowan Ward, a high dependency ward, onto the intensive care unit (ITU). The staff supported Sam throughout her time watching over Graeme. Experiencing shock and worry, Sam was neglecting herself. Nurses on the ward made sure she ate and drank. “They would come and tell me what was going on and offer hugs, they were absolutely amazing, all of them.”

On the fifth day, with Graeme’s heart continuing to fail, he was taken for open heart surgery and fitted with a biventricular assist device (BiVAD) that would keep both sides of his heart pumping.

He had tubes coming out from under the rib cage into a machine that is plugged into the mains, it was quite intimidating

Despite having a heart that was being entirely supported by machinery, physiotherapists were keen to have him move, get out of bed and on his feet to keep some strength up. "We all had very high hopes everything was going in the right direction."

Crash resuscitation

"Thursday was the day that everything came crashing down," said Sam. "We phoned for a check up on him and they asked: ‘Are you coming down?’ I drove from our home in Barking to Harefield, all the while staff were on the phone keeping me calm. It wasn’t until we reached the hospital, that we were made aware how serious the situation was."

Mr Khoshbin, a consultant in cardiac surgery and transplantation, had been doing his rounds to check on patients who were on mechanical life support like BiVAD. “As I was finishing up, Graeme had become suddenly very unwell and there was a crash call,” said Mr Khoshbin. “Quickly I had my whole team around me; the theatre team, the perfusionist and I had assistance to help me reopen the chest.” 

Graeme had experienced a prolonged period without blood pressure, but Mr Khoshbin and his team persisted with their resuscitation and worked to get Graeme in as stable a condition as possible.

Sam recalls sitting with Graeme once she had arrived at Harefield.

Alarms started buzzing and going mad, he was in cardiac arrest for the second time. They saved him for the second time. He wasn’t ready to leave his family and the teams at Harefield weren’t going to give up on him either.

Graeme was carefully monitored over the following weeks. He was often in theatre to manage bleeds and remove clots, all the while sedated. CT scans showed no damage to his organs following his resuscitation. His team would know more once he was woken up.

Concerns for Graeme’s recovery following such a serious incident were eased soon after. Mr Khoshbin recalled that on his next morning round: “I was hoping that he would be awake and he was! He had his mobile in one hand and the other hand he was waving at me. The last time I saw him waving at me, it was just minutes before he had crashed. It was a miracle for him to survive that.”

Preparing for heart transplant

In the following weeks, the staff at Harefield worked hard to keep Graeme’s condition stable and to see improvements in his health. In the moments where it was possible, the physiotherapists worked with him to build a little strength. He would soon need it.

A second miracle occurred for Graeme when a suitable donor heart was quickly found for him. On Wednesday 11 January 2023, Graeme was placed on the super urgent transplant list. “Little did we know that at 6am, that Saturday morning, we would be woken up with “He’s going down to theatre, we have the heart,” said Sam.

The heart transplant performed by Mr Khoshbin and his team was a success. Sam was amazed to find him awake and talking when she came back to see him the next day.

He had his own fan club in the hospital. Nurses would cheer as they walked past Graeme’s door and the doctors would pop in and offer congratulations, encouraged to see him awake already

Graeme spent four more days on ITU, before moving to the ward and starting his journey of rehabilitation. Graeme has worked hard with his physiotherapists following a significant loss of weight and strength, and is now able to walk upstairs by himself. At the time of writing, Graeme remains an inpatient at Harefield Hospital until his tests confirm that he is well enough to return home.

“Looking after Graeme was a team effort,” said Mr Khoshbin. “From the beginning to the end we just held it together. That is the magic of Harefield that we have got a team like that.” He was also keen to highlight what strength and positivity the family showed through such a challenging time. “They are a fantastic family, full of energy. I don't know where Sam gets her strength from. She never left his bedside.”

Walking from Barking to Harefield 

On April 15 Sam, her family and friends, will be joined by Mr Khoshbin for an epic fundraising walk from Barking to Harefield to support the work of Harefield Hospital. “This hospital fought to make Graeme better and gave me support and care too. We are walking not only to raise funds to thank Harefield for everything they’ve done, but also to encourage people to get persistent coughs checked out.”

We want to wish Sam, her family and friends and Mr Khoshbin good luck for their walk. If you would like to support their fundraising, please donate by clicking the link below. 

Support Sam's Walk