Maxine Vukic Martell outside St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver
Photo: Kristen Thompson
Maxine Vukic Martell was 12 when the first heart transplant in British Columbia was performed at Vancouver General Hospital, 20 years ago today.
Less than a decade after that milestone surgery Martell, an otherwise healthy and happy teenager, learned she had a heart condition that necessitated a transplant.
“I was terrified,” she said yesterday at a celebration at St. Paul’s hospital marking two decades of heart transplantation in B.C. “I was 19-years-old, life was just starting.”
Martell received a new heart when she was 24, and since then got married, bought a house and is thinking about starting a family.
“To be alive … doing all the things I didn’t think would be possible to do is wonderful,” she said, adding that the hardest thing is realizing that her life was extended because someone else’s was cut short.
“It’s really bittersweet, but I thank them everyday.”
Minister of Health George Abbott, who also attended the event, broke down in tears remembering how his friend, Tony Beeftink, one of the province’s first heart transplant recipients, almost died before his surgery.
“I’ve known him and his family for 25 years,” Abbott said. “He’s taught all my kids in school. In 1988 we almost lost him, but thanks to the transplant program he lived.”
The transplant program was in its infancy when Beeftink, a marathon runner, received his new heart in 1988.
“Transplant recipients go in (to surgery) with a euphoria,” he said. “They’ve been waiting so long for this organ to get them back on their feet. It’s the cure you need.
“(But) you have to wait for someone to die,” he added, his voice shaking with emotion. “And if you can be in a situation where you’ve lost a family member and can think of the needs of others – that’s the greatest love.”
Beeftink said if it weren’t for that gift he would not have been alive to walk his two daughters down the aisle or see the birth of his first two grandchildren, one of whom is due and the other expected in the spring.
“The last 20 years have been a build up to the next few months,” he said.
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