“I was born in Sale in 1972. My parents are also born down that way of Victoria, and I am their third child. I was born with a hole in my heart and was six months old when I made my first trip to Royal Children’s Hospital (RCH). While I was there, doctors discovered I also have aortic stenosis. My aortic valve hasn’t formed properly, and I wasn’t getting enough blood in my body.
Mum and Dad had to bring me to RCH every so often throughout my life; sometimes every six months, sometimes every 12.
I wasn’t allowed to play sport. I guess that’s the main impact on my life. Growing up in a country town, not being involved in sports, or be the same as everyone else, was tough. I went to a Catholic Primary School and an all-boys High School. There were the occasional comments, but I never lost sleep over it.
When I was 13, I had my first open-heart surgery, as my valve was starting to deteriorate. I don’t have much recollection of it impacting my life as I didn’t feel any difference in my quality of life.
They put a balloon in my valve to stretch it open, but that didn’t work as well as they hope it would.
Three years later in January, I had my second open-heart surgery. They replaced it with another human valve. Two weeks later, I started Year 12. Unfortunately, I didn’t give myself time to recover, and it was really silly of me to have gone to school. Most of the year, I was tired.
The surgery, on paper, was considered a success, so I went on with my life. I decided to take a year off after Year 12 and got myself a job at the bank. Around that time, the recession was going on, and jobs were hard to get. I decided to stay in the bank.
I moved to Melbourne on my 21st birthday for work opportunities and to have a better lifestyle. It’s hard to be gay in the country 25 years ago; it’s changed since but I wasn’t waiting around for it!
Moving to Melbourne was the best present I gave myself. I went through my 20s, doing what everyone did, and led a normal life. I partied too hard and did all the naughty stuff, but I stayed in the finance industry.
In 2000, I noticed my health was deteriorating again. I’ve had regular annual checkups, but I was noticing trouble with my breathing, and walking a city block was difficult.
In 2000 & 2001, I took six months off from work and, at the age of 26, I had my third open-heart surgery. This time, they replaced the human valve with a pig valve. I still like bacon.
It was around this time when my partner Stephen and I got together. We had met on the internet in 2001. We were trailblazers then, as people weren’t really meeting via the internet then. This was six months after my third surgery. I was still a little physically broken, but he didn’t seem to mind. Stephen was building his home in Caroline Springs then. It was the only house within 500m of the nearest house, and where the shopping centre sits now, used to be just paddocks.
At some point in the 90s, I was living with a friend in Altona North. She had needed a housemate, and I didn’t like my housemate then in South Yarra. It was a bit of a shock, moving to Altona North. We lived right where the Bunnings is now, and lived there for a couple of years.
It was around then, I discovered Yarraville. I had friends who lived there. Gay nights in Dirty Merch used to be unique in the west, and the nights were packed. I preferred the west, and the drive to the city took only 15 minutes.
When I was in Altona North, my housemate and I saw a house in Fehon Street going for $70,000. We ehmmed and ahhed over it, and thought nobody would spend $70,000 for a house in Yarraville. The house is still there, and I cry a little bit every time I drive past it.
I was ready to buy my first home by then and had been looking. My lease was up, and Stephen had just finished building his house. I remember moving to Caroline Springs, thinking ‘What the fuck have I done?’ We last 12 months in that house and put it on the market. Caroline Springs was closed down at the time, and housing estates haven’t taken off yet. I remember signing with the real estate agent on a Monday night, and it was sold within 48 hours.
All of a sudden, we had nowhere to live. We knew we wanted to come back to Yarraville and had a budget of $350,000. We thought that’s a lot of money. By 2002, you literally couldn’t get anything other than a complete dump.
We house we ended up buying was 95% renovated. The vendors were divorcing, and it came under budget. It was on the other side of Geelong Road. It was officially West Footscray (WeFO), but some people were still calling it Kingsville. In 2007, we investigated the name change, and none of us could work out why it’s connected to WeFO. The community had meetings, but it was too hard, and we all gave up.
There was a vacant block of land behind us. Stephen had hesitated to buy our home due to the block of land, as it may attract trouble. People called the block of land, The Triangle. The first night we were there, a car drove into the triangle, and did donuts for ten minutes. You could imagine my silence and discomfort, and Stephen gave me the ‘I told you so’ look. However, that was the only time it had ever happened.
We discovered the house next to us was owned by the council, and they were planning to knock it down and turn it into a road. We mobilized the community and got the council to sell the house. We put together a design for the triangle to be used as a community space and have proper garden beds and native trees.
The community spent quite a few months planning this, and the council was supportive of our idea, particularly Catherine Cummings. We had an architect professionally drawn up plans and took it to council. They voted on the spot and told us the community park will be funded by them. It’s now called Anders Park.
It’s name after Anders Hansen, a builder who had built hundreds of estate on the West of Geelong Road in the early 1900s. He was like the Metricon builder of that time. Several streets in West Footscray are named after him, including Sredna Street (Anders spelt backwards) and Nesnah Street (Hansen spelt backwards).
By 2011, I’ve been seeing a personal trainer. The year before, despite never having exercised or played any sport, I decided to get a personal trainer. I was getting really fit, the ‘I was about to take my top off at the beach’ kind of fit.
In February 2011, I remember it was a Friday. I was getting dressed for work and walked out the door. I didn’t feel right, and called in sick, which I rarely did as I like to save my sick days.
I got into bed, thinking I had the flu. Stephen kept saying I had to go to the hospital. At 2am Monday morning, I was a mess. We got to Footscray hospital, and by sheer coincidence, the on-call doctor is an infectious disease doctor.
‘I know what’s wrong with you,’ she said. ‘You’ve got endocarditis.’
Endocarditis is an infection that attacks the lining of your heart, and goes into your body, and attacks the points of weaknesses. It was attacking me.
I spent two to three weeks in hospital, pumped full of antibiotics before they worked out which was the right one to give me. Back home, I was on a drip, and the nurse would come in three times a day, to check on me.
By September 2011, I was progressively getting better again, building my energy levels up. I remember I was running some staff workshops in Sydney, and I was the MC for that day. I realized I was out of breath and went to see a cardiologist in October. The doctor listened to me, and said ‘You’re not leaving this hospital.’
I was there for 30 days, as they prepped me for my fourth open-heart surgery, this time with a mechanical valve. After the operation, all I could hear was a clicking sound inside me. I could feel it in my throat, in my ears, and when the surgeon came to see me, he was really excited as it was a success.
‘You didn’t tell me about this clicking sound.’ I replied.
I used to hate anything ticking, and it took me a long time to get used to it. There are days when it’s really loud. If we are sitting in a car, you can probably hear it!
In August 2014, I had the day off and was renovating our house. We went to the pub for dinner that night. It was an unusually warm August, and I was in shorts and tee shirt. All of a sudden, I went cold.
I knew my endocarditis was back.
The doctors put a camera down my throat and said I needed another open-heart surgery.
By then, I knew the procedure quite well. The nurses had moved me into a room I had to myself, but had dressed it up and couldn’t tell me the truth it was the room saved for people who are probably going to die. Friends and family visited me that day; it was really emotional.
Four or five days later, I woke up from my surgery. The surgeon said my body was a car crash; my aorta didn’t exist, and the pulmonary valve was damaged.
I had also died a few times during the surgery and had a stroke as well. Fortunately, I slept through the entire procedure, and also the Hawks vs Swans Grand Final.
I never really recovered from that operation and illness. My heart isn’t as effective as it used to be. I still have problems with my leg, due to the stroke.
I enjoy eating in local restaurants, and one of my favourites is On The Bone in Maidstone. I go out for dinner too many times a week, but the best way to find me is on the couch. In my free time, I do enjoy cooking and baking bread.
I started at NAB As a teller and was there for four years. I was off work sick for a bit and ended up in IOOF. They are not the big business that they are now. I was really just doing jobs that you get when you don’t go to uni. Somehow or another, I ended up in AXA and got a job training financial planners on how to use the software. I was still getting promotions, and for a few years was flying around Australia, training people. It was a fun job, and I was doing that until I got sick in 2001.
I went across to employment services after, and last eight years. In 2014, after being sick again, my body was pretty broken. I have residual health challenges and had to manage my pain and energy levels.
I haven’t gone back to work since.
Every day, I have a routine. I get up and exercise. On Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, I am at the gym. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I have personal training. A lot of it depends on my energy level. I’ve been known to pull up in the gym, sit in the car for ten minutes, and drive off. I spend the days at home, recovering.
February is Heart Month. I often put stuff on my Facebook page and share my thoughts. Now that I’m in my late-40s, people around me aren’t as active as they should be, and not curbing their bad behaviours. I think while my health is something I was born with, I’d like to think ‘That could happen to me’.
Endocarditis could happen to anyone. I’ve met lots of people with no history of heart problems. People such as triathletes, who went to bed thinking they had the flu and woke up with their chest wide open.
People think of women’s health and they think of breast cancer. However, the number one killer of women is heart disease. I encourage everyone to get their heart checked out.
If people want to contact me or know of people who are having trouble with their heart, I am not an expert by any means, but I am always happy to chat with you.”