Heart transplant patient Kalaiselvan Kalian, 48, with his wife Parvathy Rajoo, 45, at their flat in Ang Mo Kio. He moves about in a motorised wheelchair when he ventures outside. -- ST PHOTO: DESMOND LIM

Mr Kalaiselvan Kalian, 48, a Tamil Singaporean, nearly died of heart failure three years ago but was saved by a heart transplant operation.

DEC 15 was a day of quiet celebration for Mr Kalaiselvan Kalian. After all, that date could have been engraved on his tombstone.

Three years ago to the day, at just 45 years of age, he was on the verge of dying of heart failure.

Doctors at the National Heart Centre Singapore performed bypass surgery to unblock his arteries but his heart, damaged by years of coronary artery disease, was beyond repair.

The only thing that could save him was a heart transplant but that could take months, if not years.

Luckily for Mr Kalai, a heart became available the very next day and his blood and tissue matched the donor's.

The National Heart Centre transplant team, led by Dr Lim Chong Hee, director of the Heart and Lung Transplantation Programme, performed the operation the next day.

It took nine hours to remove Mr Kalai's diseased and damaged heart and put in the new one.

Despite being diabetic, Mr Kalai survived, but after a few days, his left leg had to be amputated because of complications brought on by his diabetic condition.

When he became conscious, Mr Kalai, a former administrative clerk, was shocked to have lost a leg and became depressed.

'It was difficult for me to accept it because I led a fairly active life. I used to run or walk at least four times a week and play with my kids.'

But seeing how happy his wife and two kids were on seeing him pull through made him count his blessings.

'It dawned on me how lucky I was to have found a heart. There are people who wait for months, years. There are some who die waiting. It was a miracle. God had given me another chance at life,' added Mr Kalai, a former Hindu who has since become a Christian.

He stayed in hospital for four months, going through counselling and physiotherapy sessions. Now fitted with a prosthesis limb, he moves about in a motorised wheelchair outside of his five-room HDB flat in Ang Mo Kio. At home, he uses a walking frame.

His wife, Madam Parvathy Rajoo, 45, who works as an immigration officer, is now the sole family breadwinner. He stays home to cook and care for their 10-year-old daughter Remehsha and eight-year-old son Rakesh Kumar.

But he hopes to take a course soon to learn computer skills, which will enable him to work from home.

He also spends part of his time encouraging heart patients, who are waiting for a transplant.

'I tell them not to give up hope. Look at me. Three years later, I am alive and enjoying every day.'

He says he hopes to see his kids grow up.

'The world's longest-living heart transplant patient in the US survived for 31 years with a transplanted heart. He died in August last year.

'I intend to break that record.'

Source: The Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Permission required for reproduction.