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Finding a new purpose: Geoff Lester’s heart story
heartfoundation.org.au|Helpline 13 11 12

Finding a new purpose: Geoff Lester’s heart story

Dr Geoff Lester, 35, is training to be a cardiologist at Coffs Harbour Hospital. He has survived three high-risk open-heart surgeries and two strokes.

Geoff has lived a life in two parts: the 24 years before “the event” and the very different years since.  At the age of 24, Geoff was a fit, sports-loving, uni student, happy to see how life panned out.

Then life was interrupted.

In 2009, Geoff felt tingling in his left arm that didn’t go away. He went to hospital and collapsed with excruciating chest pain.  A CT scan revealed his main artery connecting the heart to the body was tearing – a life-threatening condition called an aortic dissection.

“The doctor told me that I needed surgery straight away. He said: ‘There is a good chance you can die from the surgery but if you don’t have the surgery you will die,’” Geoff adds.

A new perspective on life (and career)

Geoff survived the surgery, but as he recovered, he found himself thinking constantly about the cardiac surgeon who’d saved his life.

“I had this desire to find out what had happened to me and help others in this field. Over the next few weeks this incredible wave of purpose came over me. It was like I’d been waiting for this moment my whole life,” he says.

From then on, I just knew I had to be a cardiologist. It just felt right.

Less than three months after his first open heart surgery, Geoff experienced another dissection – this one more severe than the first. Once again, he made it through the surgery. Eighteen months later, he was accepted into medical school.

Facing the future

As he threw himself into his studies, Geoff’s health continued to try and hold him back. A third open heart surgery and two strokes followed within the next eight years, each linked back to his original dissection.

The third surgery – due to a massive blood clot in his chest – was even more life-threatening than these previous two. He was given 20 minutes to say goodbye to his loved ones.

His survival was a mixture of good luck, good medicine and years of lifesaving heart research funded by organisations like the Heart Foundation. But even at his lowest point, Geoff held tight to his dream of becoming a cardiologist.

In fact, his lived experiences of a heart condition have been invaluable in his work, giving him an insight into the patient experience that many of his colleagues could only dream of.

“I wouldn’t wish what I’ve been through on anyone, but I don’t regret it. Even when I was feeling really scared before surgery, I had 100% faith in the skills of the surgeon and medical team,” he says.

“I want to provide others with the same benefits and care that I received.”

Advice to others

  • Try and find your sense of purpose. Life is too short not to spend it doing what you love. If you can, use your heart event as that turning point. You’ve survived and have been given a second chance at life – others should be so lucky.

Geoff shares his tips and advice on the Supporting Young Hearts: Heart to heart series podcast and is a member of the Supporting Young Hearts online support group. Visit us here to find out more.


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