Long before Catrin had her transplant, she knew she would need a new heart at some point. Since the cardiac arrest at the birth of her youngest child, her health had been slowly getting worse.
At first, she didn't realize the seriousness of the situation. "I thought it would go on and on," but by the time she got on the waiting list, her condition was critical.
She spent 100 days in the hospital waiting for a donor heart, until it finally came on the 30th of July 2019. "That was the worst time ever," Catrin says looking back, "and I thought I wasn't going to make it."
Her children play an important role in her life. They have been involved in the disease from the beginning and have been Catrin's biggest support, but also her biggest worry.
Life after the transplant has changed very little compared to before, but her resilience has made a big difference. "It's a bit like finally being able to step on the gas again after a traffic jam".
Catrin's wish for the future is that children and young adults can learn more about transplantation and make decisions for their own lives.
Jürgen had a sudden emergency in June 2008 and needed an artificial heart due to an undiagnosed heart failure. This led to an inflammation in his abdomen and he had to wait for a transplant.
The first donor heart was not suitable for him, but after one week the time had finally come. On October 18, Jürgen successfully received a heart transplant.
The new beginning wasn't easy for him. In the beginning he could hardly breathe or move by himself. He had to learn everything all over again. But there were moments of happiness, too. "The first lemon ice cream after surgery was the best thing I've ever experienced."
To this day, he is incredibly grateful for the care he received at the Heart Center. "I wouldn't have made it on my own." Jürgen thinks about his donor almost every day, but especially on his transplant "birthday." On that day, he lights a candle for him or her and spends the day alone with his thoughts.
After his own transplant, Jürgen is now doing volunteer work for other transplant patients. His association is like a surrogate family for him, where he really feels at home. "You have to have experienced it yourself to be able to have a say.“
In 2014, Gernot was diagnosed with incurable pulmonary fibrosis, a disorder of his lungs. Over the next 6 years, his lung function slowly deteriorated. He felt he had to do something urgently to not die.
At almost 70 years old, he had not expected the possibility of a lung transplant, especially given the acute shortage of donor organs.
Two large oxygen tanks in the bathroom and a 10-meter hose became the center of his life and limited his range of motion. Leaving the apartment was possible only with a portable oxygen device.
"It was like a circle of hell."
But then, surprisingly, he was put on the transplant waiting list and received a donor lung on May 23, 2019. For Gernot, the first breath with the new lung felt like winning the lottery. Since then, gratitude has taken on a whole new meaning in his life.
"I was just incredibly lucky."
Gernot believes that organ donation should be held in much higher appreciation in Germany and that organ donors should be celebrated as life savers.
Anette had already been living with hereditary diabetes for 30 years, but at some point her blood sugar levels could no longer be controlled. When her health worsened to a life-threatening level after her pregnancy, a transplant became inevitable.
On December 26, 2014, Anette received a kidney and pancreas transplant. "I expected anything, but not on Christmas." She named her organs Ben and Paul. Every year, she celebrates Christmas with them as a reminder of her organ donor.
When she woke up, she couldn't stop crying. But little by little, she realized that things were beginning to improve. A year later, psychological effects of the transplant became noticeable. Anette sought professional psychological help and turned to the association "transplantiert e.V." to regain her inner balance.
The exchange with other affected people gave her a new perspective on a life with donor organs. Here she found friends who had similar experiences. Today, it is part of her life that she regularly exchanges letters with the relatives of her organ donor through the German Foundation for Organ Transplantation.
Anette wishes that in Germany organ recipients and relatives of organ donors should have the opportunity to get to know each other.
"After 30 years of illness, my life is finally a good one.“
Franco suffered a severe heart failure after a persistent cold. An artificial heart was the only option to bridge the time until transplantation. His only goal was to stay alive, so he agreed to the artificial heart.
Along with other patients with artificial hearts, he waited daily at the hospital for the decisive call. "Other patients on the waiting list were called before me, and some passed away. But I told myself I could do it!"
On the night of October 11, 2012, the long-awaited call finally came.
Today, Franco lives a much more relaxed life than before and enjoys spending time with his friends. His dog Nino is his greatest joy and support.
Nevertheless, the worry about his new heart never quite leaves him. The fear that something could happen to it, often prevents him from sleeping.
Before the transplant, he had never thought about organ donation and never imagined that a donor heart would one day save his life.
To make his happiness complete, all he wishes for is a loved one by his side.
Christopher was only 9 years old when he needed a new heart in 1997. Today, almost 25 years later, he is the father of two sons himself.
The reason for his heart transplant was a genetic cardiomyopathy, which his father also suffered from. Initially, the little boy could not make friends with this strange heart, but as they grew healthier, they became best friends.
The anniversary of the transplant is regularly celebrated with friends and family. On that day, his grandma goes to church. "We are thankful that I was able to grow up like a normal boy and have a normal work and family life."
The thought of his organ donor also accompanies Christopher in his everyday life, especially when transplants and organ donations are present in the media. On the 20th anniversary, he tried to find his organ donor. During the search, however, he realized it was becoming too emotionally affecting, and he called it off.
He wants to teach his two sons that in life you should always think positively and believe in yourself.
At the age of 15, Oliver received a defibrillator to support his weakened heart. Life with this device was terrible for him. He couldn't play soccer and had to go to the hospital all the time. When the defibrillator was triggered, it felt like a horse was kicking his chest.
At some point, he decided to have a transplant. Oliver waited 6 months in the hospital, worrying about whether the new heart would finally allow him to do the things that mattered to him again.
After two unsuccessful attempts, he finally received a donor heart on November 26, 2012.
"With the new heart, I found a new direction. I now work in the transportation field, taking people to rehab or daycare."
Oliver thinks it's great that there are people willing to donate organs. However, he has thought only rarely about his own organ donor.
"After all, the most important thing after a transplant is to keep living. I'm just living now.“
Ferhat's heart disease came into his life just when everything was going perfectly. Professionally successful and expecting his first child, life together with his wife seemed perfect.
He suffered from a hereditary cardiomyopathy and doctors urgently advised him to have a heart transplant. For Ferhat, however, this situation was unbearable. He wanted to be by his wife's side and experience the birth of their child, even if it meant he might die.
Today he says, "It was a wrong decision. It would have been better to go straight to the hospital. Then I would have to deal with fewer late effects now."
Ferhat lived to see the birth of his son and was successfully transplanted a new heart on January 12, 2015.
He doesn't like the term "second life." "It sounds like you wasted your first life and now you're getting a second, maybe even a third. When in fact I was just unlucky and got sick."
The time he has been given since the transplant is of great meaning to Ferhat. His favorite way to spend it is with his two sons.
"I really try to make the most of this gift and thank my organ donor by passing on enduring values to my children.“
Carlo was only 16 years old when his heart became seriously ill within a few days. In an emergency operation, he had an artificial heart implanted. He had decided early on to become an organ donor himself, but he could not have known that a heart transplant would save his own life.
When Carlo woke up after the transplant, the first thing he noticed was that he had his own heartbeat again. This was not the case with the artificial heart, which pumped blood continuously through his body.
During this difficult time, his family and friends supported him and visited him in the hospital almost every day. They brought him everything he wanted. His mother, in particular, was always by his side and remains his greatest support to this day.
"That's when I learned what true friendship means."
The medication against a rejection reaction of the new heart had strong side effects, and in 2018 Carlo developed leukemia. But he has since overcome this consequential disease as well.
Today, Carlo lives his life the way he wants to.
Sandra began struggling with a lung disease at the age of 15. Soon after, she was dependent on oxygen and could no longer leave her home. A normal life seemed out of reach for her.
Although Sandra had doubts for a long time about whether a transplant would be an option for her, she ended up deciding to get on the waiting list for a lung transplant. As she got worse, she gave up her doubts.
"There was a time when I thought my life was over."
In December 2013, Sandra received the first offer for a donor lung. But full of fear, she turned it down. At that moment, she didn't realize that she could die from her disease rather than from the operation itself.
Only through therapy and conversations with other transplant recipients did Sandra find new courage and conviction. The second offer finally came on November 9, 2014, and Sandra said "yes."
After an eleven-hour operation, things slowly but steadily started to improve for her.
Her new dog Maya supports her to train her condition and endurance. Today she lives an active life together with her partner and her animals.
Sandra is overjoyed about her decision to have a transplant. "My lungs and I are an unbeatable team, we are a perfect match.“
Sarah suffers from a congenital metabolic disease cystic fibrosis, an incurable genetic defect. Her lungs and liver in particular were damaged, and she spent much of her life on therapies and medication.
She found good friends and support on the clinic's cystic fibrosis ward, and often spent more time with them than with her family. "Cystic patients have a black sense of humor, and death is part of that."
Sarah's condition worsened, and she slipped into a coma. On December 16, 2015, she woke up with two donor organs: a new lung and a new liver.
To commemorate the transplant, Sarah got a tattoo with the date of her transplant. "It's a nice reminder for me that part of the donor lives on in me."
The transplant was like a miracle for Sarah. She can finally breathe without an oxygen machine. With her partner, she can pursue her favorite hobbies like attending concerts and traveling.
"I hope the future holds many more beautiful moments for me.“
Karsten has been living with a donor heart since the beginning of 2007.
During a routine check-up in 1994, an emerging cardiac insufficiency was discovered, which steadily worsened in the following years. 7 years later a possible transplantation was mentioned for the first time. It would take another 6 years until the heart transplantation.
His dream was to be able to ride his bike to the bakery again.
While Karsten was in the hospital waiting for the donor organ, he met his current wife, who was working as a nurse on the ward at the time.
"You basically don't have a choice, you choose to get a transplant or you go down." He could never have done any of this without his family. It is an important part of his life.
After the transplant, Karsten bought his first racing bike and soon started participating in bike races. To this day, he has already ridden across the Alps five times.
As a cyclist, he often travels the world and actively promotes transplant sports in several TX sports associations.
The transplant was great luck for Karsten in a hopeless life situation.
"Without my organ donor, I would not have met my grandchildren.“
"You want to get back to a certain standard of living," Thomas says.
During his time at high school, he was diagnosed with advanced heart failure. As tests progressed, he was also found to have a hereditary muscle disease that likely damaged his heart.
"It was kind of too big and worn out, and it was clear to me that it wasn't going to last forever."
Transplantation in patients with muscular dystrophy was under-researched at the time, and there were concerns about whether his muscles would regenerate after his hospital stay. Nevertheless, the doctors decided to go ahead with the procedure, and on September 5, 2002, Thomas received a donor heart. The concerns proved unfounded.
Whether Thomas has changed since the transplant is something he cannot answer with certainty. Today, he views things much more calmly than before and accepts what cannot be changed anyway. Other people's opinions no longer play an important role for him.
Today, Thomas lives a fulfilled life with his family and works in a state association for physically disabled people.
Johannes' story begins during a skiing vacation with a flu infection that led to a severe heart muscle inflammation.
At the age of 14, he couldn't really grasp all of this yet. He was curious and excited to see what was going to happen. His philosophy in the hospital was that basically it could always be worse, because "worse" would mean no longer being in this world.
On June 18, 2010, after 3 months with artificial heart support, Johannes received an organ donor heart.
After another 6 weeks, he was able to go home and celebrate his 15th birthday with friends and family a day later.
"Coming home was exciting for me and was celebrated with balloons."
The bond with his family and classmates was the biggest support for him during the whole time.
Today, Johannes is self-employed and works in the family business. He is also involved in local politics.
Johannes has great respect for people who decide to donate organs during their lifetime or after the death of a relative. He would like more people to think about it and make this important decision.
"... I do my heart well, I have received a life extension".
Susanne didn't notice much of her severe heart disease at first. Only an examination by a heart specialist confirmed that she urgently needed a new heart. She could hardly believe it and was unsure if this was the right path for her.
It wasn't until the doctor told her that heart failure was more deadly than cancer that she made a conscious decision to have a heart transplant. "Everything felt surreal; I couldn't believe this was happening to me."
At that point, Covid was spreading in Germany. After only a week of waiting, she received her transplant on April 10, 2020.
When she woke up in the hospital, she was not allowed visitors because of Covid. But thanks to the loving care of the nursing staff, she did not feel alone. The cell phone was her only way to keep in touch with family and friends. Photos from her beloved garden gave her courage and a goal for after the transplant.
The strict Covid rules restrict her life in addition to the rules that come with a transplant, but her garden is once again her refuge during this time.
"I now understand that life is limited, and I felt that."