After heart transplant, Pedro (18) wins at World Transplant Games
In April 2023 Pedro Basson, 18, won gold in tennis at the World Transplant Games in Australia. The remarkable teenager achieved this only 15 months after a heart transplant, which he received after falling suddenly and severely ill.
Pedro was back on the tennis court only a few months after receiving a life-saving heart transplant at the beginning of 2022. And soon after that, he set himself the massive goal of competing in the World Transplant Games in Perth in April 2023. Not only did he make it to the Games, but he also won Gold in the men's singles 18 to 30-year-old division and Silver in the men's doubles.
Looking back to 2021: Pedro falls ill
Paul Basson, Pedro's dad, describes Pedro as a healthy, intelligent, and active young man: "He plays tennis, table tennis, swims, cycles, surfs and hikes, and he's academically strong."
Several factors built up to Pedro's needing a heart transplant he explains: "First, a tennis tour where I picked up flu and didn't feel great. That was around October 2021."
Paul says, "Then, a school tour where the children physically exerted themselves and Pedro got food and water poisoning. He came home spent and slept for 12 hours. When he woke up, his heart was racing, and he was sweating and hot. The GP sent us straight to Netcare Linksfield Hospital."
Pedro had heart failure, tested positive for COVID-19, the coxsackievirus and a staphylococcus bacterial infection. The doctors did an echocardiogram which showed myocarditis and cardiomyopathy (both conditions that affect the heart muscle and how it pumps blood). Paul recalls, "I was in disbelief!"
"We don't know for sure what caused the condition," says Paul. One possibility is that the coxsackievirus caused myocarditis, which can lead to cardiomyopathy. After 10 days, Pedro was transferred to a critical care unit at Netcare Milpark Hospital. Pedro is diagnosed with heart failure.
Pedro fights his illness in hospital and at home
The bacterial infection responded well to intravenous medicine and doctors were hopeful that Pedro's heart would repair itself with support from various medicines.
After more than three weeks in hospital Pedro was discharged, just in time for Christmas. "When Pedro was first admitted to hospital, his heart was functioning at 15%. When he was discharged, it was at 30%," says Paul. "We were basically running an ICU from home. We were measuring his pulse, blood pressure, oxygen level, temperature, weight, and liquid intake regularly, and I was compiling the stats into charts to send to his doctors. Unfortunately, the oral medicine didn't work very well." Pedro started to experience fluid build-up and less than a month after being discharged, Pedro was admitted to hospital again.
Pedro needs a heart transplant
"We were told the only thing that could save him was a transplant," says Pedro's mom René.
Getting approved for the transplant list is an intensive process. "Pedro, me and Paul all had to undergo several assessments to determine if Pedro was a suitable candidate. We also had to speak to psychologists and fill in questionnaires. They explained that a transplant isn't a silver bullet. You're signing up for lifelong medicine and a changed lifestyle. You can't go wherever you want, whenever you want without first considering the medical implications if something goes wrong," explains Rene.
"It can take anything from three months to three years to find the right organ for the transplant. During that time, the doctors have to work to keep the patient alive," explains Paul. "Pedro had a 5% chance of surviving the week and doctors were again discussing the possibility of putting him on an ECMO machine to keep him alive while waiting for a donor heart. He was in ICU and looked like a stick figure. He weighed about 50 kg."
"Then, we got the call. A donor heart had come up for Pedro far sooner than expected!"
A new heart and a new lease on life
Soon after his 17th birthday, Pedro had his heart transplant and a pacer placed. The pacemaker was removed within the first week and all the drainage pipes were systematically removed as his body healed itself. He was discharged less than two weeks after the operation.
Pedro bounces back and sets sights on World Transplant Games
Pedro had to see a biokineticist regularly (those bi-weekly sessions were the highlight of his week) as well as a psychiatrist. He also received spiritual counselling from pastors from the family's church. The biokineticist motivated him to make the 2023 World Transplant games a goal.
In April, around three months after the transplant, doctors gave Pedro the green light to spend a week on holiday with his family, at the coast. By May, Pedro was back in school. He was also allowed to start playing tennis again. " He had his heart set on playing tennis at the 2023 World Transplant Games in Perth, Australia" says Paul.
- Watch the moving conversation recorded in 2022 between Dr Ryan Noach, CEO of Discovery Health and Paul and Pedro about Pedro's journey.
Pedro plays brilliant tennis, wins gold at World Transplant Games
In September 2022 started training in earnest for the World Transplant Games.
- Dr Ryan Noach wishes Pedro luck as he heads to the World Transplant Games.
At the Games, Pedro, the youngest competitor at the event, faced strong competition in the quarter- and semi-final and final matches. "It was brilliant tennis to watch," says Paul. The family was there to support Pedro at the Games.
"In the finals, Pedro fell and hurt his knee. He was lying on the ground, in a lot of pain. But he didn't want to withdraw. He just fought through," says Paul. The final match was so tough that it ended in a tiebreaker.
"My opponent and I had the same level of fitness," says Pedro. "So, it was a mental game based on what errors we each made and how we overcame those."
He enjoyed interacting with other people who, like him, also had had similar, life-saving organ transplants and require lifelong immune-suppressing medicine. Pedro takes lifelong immune-supressing medicine (so that his body won't reject the donor heart).
- Dr Ryan Noach, CEO of Discovery Health congratulates Pedro on this achievement through a LinkedIn post.
Back in South Africa with a Gold and Silver medal in hand, Pedro received a lot of media attention. His medical team also celebrated with an event at Netcare Milpark Hospital. Pedro gifted his gold medal to his cardiologist Dr Graham Cassel.
Pedro adds, "Dr Cassel took such good care of me. I hope he keeps the medal in his office as encouragement to his other patients."
Pedro's future looks bright. On top of playing tennis, he also swims for his school's first team. He's got his driver's license and a new car, and has applied to study computer science at Stellenbosch University. He also wants to compete at future World Transplant Games. "This experience inspired me to compete in even more events next time," he says. "I'd like to do swimming or cycling. I'm excited to push myself further."
You can't pay for being given another chance of life
"Pedro's illness, extended hospitalisation and heart transplant operation were very expensive. We are so full of gratitude to Discovery Health Medical Scheme for all they've done. Without their support, it would've all been unthinkable," says Paul. "We'd also like to extend our most sincere thanks to Pedro's team of healthcare providers, including Dr Graham Cassel, Dr Lorenzo Rampini, Dr Evan Shoul and biokineticist Byron Williams. Also, thank you to Pedro's aunt Dr Elizna Basson for her support, and to everyone who kept Pedro in their prayers throughout."
René adds, "Pedro was very blessed to receive a donor heart as quickly as he did."
The family urge the public to please sign up as organ donors, to make it easier for critically ill patients, like Pedro, to have another chance at life. "The statistics are difficult to comprehend. Every year, up to 50,000 people across the globe need heart transplants. But the reality is that only 5,000 heart transplants get done each year. There really is a desperate need for organ donors, across the world and in South Africa," says Paul.
"Once a heart or other organ is available, doctors need to see if it's compatible with the recipient, and that makes it even harder to find the perfect match quickly. That is why the more people there are that make themselves available for organ donation, the more likely it is for a recipient to get a match," adds Paul.
"It makes sense that once you are no longer alive, you can give a number of people a chance at life through your organs and tissues. It's impossible to quantify the value of being given another chance at life."
Pedro's wisdom, knowledge and understanding of life have exponentially increased through his ordeal
Despite this, Pedro's family are doing everything they can to make sure he leads as normal a life possible. "He got his learner's license a few months ago and the doctors have given him permission to go surfing in Jeffrey's Bay," says Paul. "He's been to church with me and gone for a sleepover with friends. He's put his dream of going to the USA on hold for now, but he's seeing his tennis coach again and is trying to qualify for the South African team that will compete at the World Transplant Games. His life is returning to normal, and he loves that!"
"Pedro's emotional state is also much better. The amount of growth and maturity that comes from going through trials and tribulations can never be bought or taught. Pedro's wisdom, knowledge and understanding of life have exponentially increased through his ordeal."
Paul says that Pedro and his younger brother are also reconnecting after being apart for so long. "It was all really tough on his brother. Hospital rules prohibited him from visiting Pedro while he was admitted."
"You can't pay for being given another chance at life"
"Pedro's illness, extended hospitalisation and heart transplant operation were very expensive. We are so full of gratitude to Discovery Health Medical Scheme for all they've done. Without their support, it would've all been unthinkable," says Paul. "We'd also like to extend our most sincere thanks to Pedro's team of healthcare providers, including Dr Graham Cassel, Dr Lorenzo Rampini, Dr Evan Shoul and biokineticist Byron Williams. Also, Pedro's aunt Dr Elizna Basson supported us through the ins and outs of the process."
Paul knows that Pedro was very lucky to receive a donor heart as quickly as he did.
He urges the public to please sign up as organ donors, to make it easier for critically ill patients, like Pedro, to have another chance at life. "The statistics are difficult to comprehend. Every year, up to 50,000 people across the globe need heart transplants. But the reality is that only 5,000 heart transplants get done each year. There really is a desperate need for organ donors, across the world and in South Africa," says Paul.
"Once a heart or other organ is available, they need to see if it's compatible with the recipient, and that makes it even harder to find the perfect match quickly. That is why the more people there are that make themselves available for organ donation, the more likely it is for a recipient to get a match."
"People might wonder why they should sign up for organ donation. But it makes sense that once you are no longer alive, you can give several people a chance at life. The amount of appreciation that the recipient of that organ, and their family, has is massive. It's impossible to quantify the value of being given another chance at life."
Would you like to register to become an organ donor?
- One organ donor can save seven other people's lives and one tissue donor can help up to 50 people.
- At any given time, up to 2,000 South African adults and children are waiting for a lifesaving solid organ (including heart, lung, liver, pancreas, kidney) or corneal transplant.
- To become an organ donor, simply register with the Organ Donor Foundation or call 0800 22 66 11 toll-free during office hours.
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