Former Blues player on life support after open heart surgery

Author
Liam Napier, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Wed, 3 Jun 2020, 1:46PM
Matt Johnson. (Photo / Getty)
Matt Johnson. (Photo / Getty)

Former Blues player on life support after open heart surgery

Author
Liam Napier, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Wed, 3 Jun 2020, 1:46PM

The Blues are among those sending their hopes and prayers to Matt Johnson as their former midfielder fights for his life after undergoing open heart surgery.

Rheumatic fever, a disease that attacks the heart's valves, almost claimed Johnson's life at 13.

In pursuit of his rugby dream the 26-year-old Manurewa-raised league player underwent two previous heart operations.

Johnson was recruited out of St Peter's College by the Melbourne Storm, only for that stint to be cut short by the club after nine months due to his heart condition.

Johnson refused to give up his dream and impressed during the 2017 provincial season for Southland to earn a contract with the Blues in 2018.

The following year he shifted to Northland but heart issues have been a constant companion, curtailing his promising career.

In a series of posts Johnson's fiancé, Sky Sport commentator, presenter and rugby player Taylah Hodson-Tomokino, detailed the recent events which led to Johnson being placed in an induced coma.

"Nine weeks ago, Matty started getting fevers and stomach pains. After going to his GP, they couldn't find anything wrong," Hodson-Tomokino explained.

"Weeks went by and his symptoms were coming & going. Two weeks ago, we went to the hospital after Matty was shivering uncontrollably and had stomach pains.

"They told him he was probably just "blocked up" and gave him laxatives. They had no reason to believe it was his heart as he passed all the usual tests: ECG's, Echo tests etc. His heart was in perfect working condition and his Aortic Valve that was replaced in 2018 was more or less perfect.

"The fevers didn't stop and last week an infection was found in his blood. A Transoesophageal Echocardiography was done, just to double check his heart.

"Unfortunately, a vegetation was seen growing on his valve as a result of the infection. The medical term is Endocarditis. Furthermore, a CT scan was done. The first came up clear and we were hopeful it could be treated with antibiotics.

"A second CT scan was done and it was revealed that the vegetation had caused a huge abscess over his Left Ventricular Outflow Tract (LVOT).

"The abscess had also formed a hole on the LVOT so surgery was his only option. Bits and pieces of the vegetation on his valve were breaking off every time his heart was beating. Fragments of it had reached his kidneys which is why he had the stomach pains and the doctors feared it would reach his brain and cause a stroke.

"If the abscess burst, it would have sent him in to septic shock. If we didn't operate, it would prove fatal, so we were left with no choice.

"At 7am on Tuesday 2nd June, Matty went in to surgery.

"The surgeons were able to drain the abscess on the LVOT, fix the hole, replace the diseased valve and perform grafts to widen his coronary arteries. At 2pm they tried to take him off the bypass machine, however, his heart wouldn't start. They then operated again and did as much as they could.

"The left chambers in his heart were working great, but the right was weak. They tried multiple times to get him off the bypass but they were unable to.

"After 19 long hours the surgeons tried multiple times to get his heart pumping but the right side is struggling too much. Matt sustained heavy bleeding which is not clotting so the surgeons have left his chest open and will go back into surgery if the bleeding doesn't stop.

"While his sternum is open they need to take immediate action, he will be placed in an induced coma until further notice. We love you all and thank you for keeping my spirits high."

View this post on Instagram

Hi friends & family, I thought I would write this so you understand what Matty is going through and how we got here. Nine weeks ago, Matty started getting fevers and stomach pains. After going to his GP, they couldn’t find anything wrong. Weeks went by and his symptoms were coming & going. Two weeks ago, we went to the Hospital after Matty was shivering uncontrollably and had stomach pains. They told him he was probably just “blocked up” and gave him laxatives. They had no reason to believe it was his heart as he passed all the usual tests: ECG’s, Echo tests etc. His heart was in perfect working condition and his Aortic Valve that was replaced in 2018 was more or less perfect. The fevers didn’t stop and last week an infection was found in his blood. A Transoesophageal Echocardiography was done, just to double check his heart. Unfortunately, a vegetation was seen growing on his valve as a result of the infection. The medical term is Endocarditis. Furthermore, a CT scan was done. The first came up clear and we were hopeful it could be treated with antibiotics. A second CT scan was done and it was revealed that the vegetation had caused a huge abscess over his Left Ventricular Outflow Tract (LVOT). The abscess had also formed a hole on the LVOT so surgery was his only option. Bits and pieces of the vegetation on his valve were breaking off every time his heart was beating. Fragments of it had reached his kidneys which is why he had the stomach pains and the doctors feared it would reach his brain and cause a stroke. If the abscess burst, it would have sent him in to septic shock. If we didn’t operate, it would prove fatal, so we were left with no choice. At 7am on Tuesday 2nd June, Matty went in to surgery. The surgeons were able to drain the abscess on the LVOT, fix the hole, replace the diseased valve and perform grafts to widen his coronary arteries. At 2pm they tried to take him off the bypass machine, however, his heart wouldn’t start. They then operated again and did as much as they could. The left chambers in his heart were working great, but the right was weak. They tried multiple times to get him off the bypass but they were unable to. (Continued)

A post shared by Taylah Hodson-Tomokino (@taylahtomokino) on Jun 2, 2020 at 1:17pm PDT

While Johnson remains on life support, Hodson-Tomokino hinted at positive news today as he had stopped bleeding after going through eight donated blood bags – the entire body volume of blood two times over.

"We've passed the first hurdle the next is to get his heart pumping on its own. This is the best news as we were told that we were not likely to see any improvements in his condition and to expect the worst."

In the latest update Hodson-Tomokino said there would be no procedures on Wednesday which gives Johnson's heart time to rest and strengthen for his next attempt to come off life support.

Johnson's conditions has led to an outpouring of messages from former teammates including Patrick Tuipulotu, Rieko Ioane, Jerome Kaino, James Parsons and Dalton Papalii.

View this post on Instagram

💙🙏 Our thoughts and prayers are with you. Kia Kaha @mattyjay20 🙏💙

A post shared by The Blues (@bluesrugbyteam) on Jun 2, 2020 at 3:37pm PDT