A family summer holiday in Fiji seemed like a great idea, until Tony Stephens realised he was in serious danger.


Since 1999, Tony had been treated for dilated cardiomyopathy, a condition where the heart muscle stretches and can no longer contract and pump blood properly. A decade later his condition was reasonable and he was still able to work.


“I’d been on tablets for dilated cardiomyopathy since November 1999. I couldn’t run but otherwise I was good. I still had heaps of energy,” Tony says. “Then in October 2010 I got a cold which led to pneumonia. I had already organised a holiday with my kids to Fiji. I wasn’t feeling good when I got there.


“I went to a local doctor who prescribed a sports drink. I told him I had heart disease, but he thought it was just food poisoning. I knew I had to get back to Brisbane to my cardiologist.”


After only a few days in paradise, Tony bluffed his way onto a flight after convincing staff he wasn’t as sick as he looked. His plan was nearly derailed by a fellow passenger who overheard the family talking and alerted the airline to his illness. Tony had to talk to the captain to be allowed to fly.


From the airport he went straight to The Prince Charles Hospital emergency department and was transferred to intensive care unit. Tony was told he probably would have only survived a few more hours without treatment.


“I felt really bad. I had lots of tests. It was one thing after another,” Tony says. “I had a balloon pump which was supposed to stabilise my heart. It really hurt and they had to take it out. They told me I’d need to go on the VAD the next day or I wasn’t going to make it.”



Tony was placed on a ventricular assist device (VAD) to support his failing heart. He stabilised and was able to go home for a short period. Then he started losing energy and had just returned to hospital when he started bleeding from the entry points where the VAD pumps attach to the body. He stayed the weekend in hospital.


“Sunday night I was packing to go home. I was still not feeling great. Then the heart came,” he says. “I was over 10 hours in surgery because they discovered an infection. I was lucky to get the heart, but the surgery had progressed too far to stop.”


To recover from the surgery, Tony was put into an induced coma for a couple of weeks before he started the rehabilitation process. Tony, now 35, manages a group of construction companies and sells large earth moving equipment. Before the transplant he was used to working six days a week. After leaving the hospital he could only manage up to two days at work.


“I almost had to learn to walk again. It feels like you’re a baby learning to walk. The rebuild is incredible,” he said. “I was on about 64 tablets a day. The hardest part was getting from ICU to the ward and then from the ward to home.”


Two years after his transplant, Tony is back at work full time. He’s built a huge indoor playground in his office for four year old Tony and six year old Ava to play on when they come to his work. He’s grateful for the gift he’s been given. Although he’s had a couple of hospital trips in the past few years, Tony is able to look ahead and get on with life. He’s recently travelled to the United States and is building a new house.


“I never smoked, never drink, never took drugs. I never took life for granted,” Tony says. “I’ve had a few guys change their lifestyle because of me.


“It doesn’t matter what you’re worth, you can’t buy a new heart. Without all these people – the donor family, the hospital team – I wouldn’t be here.”




The Prince Charles Hospital Foundation funds health and medical research into some of the world’s biggest killers and most debilitating illnesses. Through our grants program, we have funded over $13 million in research into heart and lung disease, organ transplantation, mental health, general medicine, emergency medicine, critical care, allied health and nursing.


We are one of the few organisations which provide funding specifically for researchers throughout their careers, offering grants for both new and experienced investigators. Our research equipment funding program is also unique and commercial activities offset our costs ensuring over 90% of donations go directly to research funding.

Organisation Details
627 Rode Rd, Chermside QLD 4032
Contact details: 

+61 7 3139 6350