A MAN who was given a new lease of life has shared the importance of supporting a charity close to his heart.

Gilbert Wheeler was diagnosed with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (also known as sudden death syndrome), a hereditary condition which affects the heart muscle, causing the muscle wall to become thickened, in 1989 and was one of the "pioneers" receiving treatment for the illness.

Mr Wheeler, from Winterslow, had a serious road accident in 2007 which “exacerbated” his condition to the point where he couldn’t walk up any stairs and became out of breath after walking a few yards.

He gave up his job in the Army Air Corps that same year and struggled to get help for his condition, which ultimately ruined his quality of life.

Mr Wheeler was turned away from hospitals that did not know how to treat him as doctors often thought he was suffering a heart attack.

In December 2016, Mr Wheeler underwent a heart transplant aged 58 and was told by doctors at Royal Papworth Hospital that his heart had just two weeks of life left in it before it would have failed.

'I did not want to live the way I was'

Since the transplant, the 65-year-old has seen his first grandson born, returned to work as a gardener and is looking forward to welcoming his son home from Korea.

Salisbury Journal: Gilbert Wheeler left the hospital smiling after his heart transplant.Gilbert Wheeler left the hospital smiling after his heart transplant. (Image: Royal Papworth)

Mr Wheeler told the Journal: "There was a lot of concern, fear and worry but the transplant team kept me calm. I just thought I have got to go for this if I want to continue with life. Without it I would have been dead within two weeks.

"If they are willing to give me a go I’m willing to go for it. My quality of life was non-existent anyway, I wanted to die because I did not want to live the way I was."

Fear of the body rejecting the new heart is a looming concern for transplant patients, Mr Wheeler said: "Sometimes medication can’t work. We always have that fear of rejection. I was quite lucky, I put it to the back of my mind and got on with life."

February is national heart month with this year marking 45 years since the first successful heart transplant and Mr Wheeler explained how he has been working with charity Heart Research UK to support patients.

“Because I’m talking from experience and I have been through it, people can relate to me. I’m there to support people which has been great and I think that is what is needed," Mr Wheeler said.

Salisbury Journal: Gilbert Wheeler had a heart transplant at Royal Papworth Hospital.

Kate Bratt-Farrar, chief executive at Heart Research UK, said: “Gilbert's story shows the positive change a heart transplant can have on individual lives, and he is truly inspirational, as he continues to spread awareness of cardiomyopathy and heart transplant surgery.

“Without the generosity of organ donors and their families heart transplantation wouldn't take place and it's because of them that so many lives have been transformed.

"We are also so grateful to Gilbert and all of our incredible supporters. It is thanks to their continued support and donations that we were able to fund the early successful heart transplants, which have saved so many lives and made such a huge impact today.” 

For more information about Heart Research UK visit heartresearch.org.uk.