The story of Luigi te Roller’s fight for life at Mediclinic Vergelegen after a massive heart attack is nothing short of inspirational.

When Luigi te Roller woke up on 9 September 2019, he had no idea that hours later, he would be fighting for his life in the cardiac unit at Mediclinic Vergelegen, with doctors pulling him back from death no fewer than three times. Two weeks after his massive heart attack, Luigi remained in complete heart failure, with the amount of blood pumped by the organ (referred to as ejection fraction or EF) standing at just 28% – a normal figure would be 52-72%. When he was released from the hospital another two weeks later, he had to relearn how to use his legs – and this was just the beginning of his struggles.

Luigi describes his recovery as “a fight against my own body”. “There is nothing worse than having zero physical strength, or having a body that refuses to listen to your mind,” he says.

“I am keenly aware that I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for the staff at Mediclinic Vergelegen.”

– Luigi te Roller

Determined to return to normal after the heart attack, he set himself challenges: “In the next hour, I will drive to the end of our estate and walk 100m; tomorrow I’m going to drive to the shops and walk 200m.” He also joined Helderberg Heart Rehab Centre, and every day he redoubled his efforts to get back on track. So, it was a shock to learn at his three-month checkup that his EF was, in fact, lower than ever before.

Gruelling journey

Luigi’s only option now was a heart transplant – and with his EF dropping by 1% every month, he calculated he had just 25 months before his luck ran out. The Te Roller family started on a gruelling journey, with Luigi’s wife and daughters undergoing long and in-depth interviews just as he was being “pricked and probed”, as he puts it. Finally, he was placed on the waiting list for a transplant.

The relief was short-lived, however. When COVID-19 hit, hospitals cancelled all transplants on the basis that patients’ white blood cell counts would be too low to fight the virus should they become infected. So, Luigi went into deep isolation for four months. “I decided that because the virus was so contagious, I couldn’t afford to be around people. Instead, I took the opportunity to tick off one of my major bucket list items: farming boerbokke [a South African breed of goats],” he says, with the resilience and determination to find the good in a bad situation that is his trademark.

This slower lifestyle among the goats suited Luigi, but in 2022 “all hell broke loose”. He was again admitted to the cardiac unit with the hope that a dose of inotropes (medicines that control heartbeat) could buy him some time. Unfortunately, this proved ineffective.

“I was told I had around four weeks left. I could either spend the time in the cardiac unit, hooked up to IV lines, or go home,” he says. Luigi had no doubt that he wanted to spend his final weeks with his family and called his wife to fetch him from the hospital. However, a few hours later, he had to make another call: this time, to tell her that a heart had been found for him, and his transplant would take place that afternoon at a Western Cape hospital able to perform the procedure.

From desperation to hope

Following the transplant, Luigi received his ongoing after-care from doctors at Mediclinic Vergelegen. A year later, Luigi has thrown himself into his family and his work and taken on several large construction projects – despite landing back in hospital for six weeks with a stomach virus.

What’s kept him going amid all these challenges? “I never gave up on my goals – I just adjusted them,” he says. “From being focused on big, long-term goals, I focused on small things I could achieve more immediately, like being able to climb the steps to my home without having to stop and rest.”

Today, Luigi lives every day according to his motto: One life – live it!

“I am keenly aware that I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for the staff at Mediclinic Vergelegen,” he says. “I’m grateful to everyone that has had a hand in giving me a chance to reverse the wrongs I may have done and create a new path that will help people.”

Start typing and press Enter to search