Having a heart transplant at the age of just 26 has given Rhys Llewellyn the drive to climb Wales’ highest mountain today to raise money for the charity that has supported them.
The 27-year-old was given just two weeks to live before his successful heart transplant 19 months ago.
And the amazing thing is that he is being joined by his 24-year-old brother Carwyn, who had to have an aortic valve replaced only nine months ago and the family of their friend Daniel Johnson, 21, who also had a heart transplant six months ago.
Daniel, who only lives a couple of streets away from the brothers in Aberdare, is not well enough to do the climb himself, but has been supporting the walk as much as he can.
The trio are raising money for Queen Elizabeth Hospital Birmingham Charity, where they all had their operations.
The Midlands hospital covers the whole of Wales for heart and lung transplant and the money they raise will go towards things such as much needed equipment, research or support for patients and their families currently waiting for or recovering from transplants.
Rhys was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy – a disease of the heart muscle – at just three months old, but lived with the condition for 25 relatively normal years.
Then, in March two years ago, he suffered a mini-stroke, and his condition took a drastic turn for the worse.
“I was diagnosed with heart failure,” said Rhys, who is dedicating the walk to his surgeon Professor Robert Bonser, who died last October.
“Luckily, I was considered fit enough to receive a heart transplant and was put on the waiting list.
“However, my health continued to deteriorate and the need for a transplant was getting more and more urgent.
“I remember being in the supermarket and not being able to lift the basket. I was really breathless and felt really unwell.
“I rang the hospital there and then and admitted myself.”
After reaching Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Rhys was put on the transplant priority list. With his heart struggling to work, he was told he would need a new heart within a fortnight or it was likely that he would lose his life.
His family had all said their good byes, but fortunately a new heart was found for Rhys and the transplant was successful.
“It was a strange feeling, when I woke up after having my new heart,” said Rhys. “I wanted to be happy, but I knew someone had lost their life for this to happen. It wasn’t really a time to celebrate. But it has given me a whole lease of life and this walk is a way of giving something back to all the people who helped and supported me.”
Rhys has since made an impressive recovery, returning to work at a plumbers’ merchants in Cardiff, and raising awareness of organ donation.
“In the months before my operation I could hardly walk a few steps let alone climb a mountain,” he said.
Rhys has made the climb once since his operation, but the fact he is being joined by his younger brother Carwyn on the walk makes this even more important.
He said: “Carwyn was too ill to do it last year because of his heart condition.
“He had to have two operations to have a valve replaced and has been building up his fitness. They have told us there is no genetic condition in the fact we have both had heart problems, but it seems strange that it has happened to both of us.
“The whole ordeal has brought us closer than ever, some people mistake us for twins. I was able to go along to a lot of his appointments and ask questions. I am the mouthy one, so I pushed him. It is great to see him back to health and we are looking forward to taking part in the walk together.”
* To sponsor the walk, visit www.justgiving.com/Rhysandcarwyn2013