In December 2016, Yvonne became the fourth person in New Zealand to have a combined heart and kidney transplant. Since then, Yvonne has “paid it forward” by donating to improve facilities for her fellow patients at Auckland City Hospital, which is New Zealand’s only provider of heart transplants.

Yvonne’s donation has enabled the purchase of special fans, which help intensive care and high dependency patients stay comfortable during their toughest times. Yvonne knows all too well the challenges these patients face.

“It started like any other Saturday. I was at home in Wanaka when the transplant coordinator called to say they had a heart for me. I’d been on the urgent waiting list for six months, and apparently they saved me just in time.”

Yvonne’s family is affected by cardiomyopathy (a degenerative disease of the heart muscle), which means she has experienced more loss than most, and she is reflective of her many family members who have died from the disease she inherited.

“I’m one of six children, and I’ve lost everyone to cardiomyopathy, except my older sister – she’s the only one of us that doesn’t have it. It has been so tough for my sister to see everyone else suffer and pass away, and her support has been incredible. She was there throughout my transplant journey.

“I remember arriving at Auckland City Hospital and meeting with my surgeon, before having both my heart and kidney transplant that same day. My surgeon has since said I had one of the worst hearts he’d seen.

After the operation, I was unconscious for 10 days and they were close to switching off my life support, but I pulled through thanks to the amazing care I received. Having a heart and kidney transplant together is so rare; the last one was two years prior to mine, and there have only been four in New Zealand, ever.”

After her double transplant, Yvonne spent six weeks at Auckland City Hospital. She suffered infections, she needed dialysis for her new kidney, and she relied on the team’s expertise to help her start over.

“I had to re-learn everything. I could hardly breathe by myself, and I had to learn to eat, talk and walk again. The physio in hospital was great, it was such an important part of my recovery, and I’ve continued the gym work back home in Wanaka.

“As for today, my heart is good, and my blood pressure is good. I was being checked by the team every three months, but now I just fly up to Auckland for six-monthly check-ups.

“When I’m here for appointments, I can stay at the DHB’s Hearty Towers, which is where I stayed for six weeks after leaving hospital. My sister took over from my husband and supported me every day at Hearty Towers – it’s an amazing place.

“I now have two birthdays, one for me, and one for my heart and kidney – I feel so lucky. I wanted to say ‘thank you’ and make things better for people still in hospital, so I was really happy that my donation went towards special fans that make patients feel more comfortable.”

The Dyson bladeless fans (below) are proving popular with patients and staff alike. High dependency patients give them a big thumbs-up and say they’re “awesome”, while nurses love them because they keep everyone cool and they can be wiped clean, which is also important for infection control.

Auckland Health Foundation CEO Gwen Green says, “We are so grateful to Yvonne. Thanks to Yvonne’s generosity, the team that cared for her has purchased high-tech equipment, which wouldn’t have otherwise been possible. Yvonne is helping patients feel happier and more relaxed in extremely challenging times, and we’re delighted to have worked with Yvonne to ensure her donation made a real difference.”