Teen returns home after US heart op

A Suffolk teenager who underwent a heart transplant in America has been reunited with his family for Christmas.

A Suffolk teenager who underwent a heart transplant in America has been reunited with his family for Christmas.

Joe Matthews, 19, was attending college in California when he faced the life-saving operation and has spent nearly a year away from his home in Fleet Dyke Drive, Lowestoft.

And this week as he looked forward to a family celebration, his mother Alison, 41, said his strength of survival still continues to amaze his loved ones.

She said: "He's planning to run the London Marathon in April. It's amazing.

"It seems as if we have been put in a whirlwind, seen everything happen in front of us and now we are back at Christmas again. All this has happened within a year."

The sports-mad teenager was a rising rugby star and hoped to enrol on a scholarship at Berkeley University before he was struck down with cardiomyopathy, a rare heart condition that affects young athletes.

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Joe's life changed direction when he began to feel breathless following a rugby match on February 18. His heart stopped when doctors tried to fit a defibrillator inside him to keep it going, and he was given no choice but to wait for a new heart.

During that time people from both California and Lowestoft rallied to support Joe, and raised £25,000 in England, but it was a difficult time for the family.

But now Mrs Matthews, Joe's father Tony, 46, his brother Jared and grandparents Ray and Mary are looking forward to a happy Christmas.

Mrs Matthews said: "That year has gone by so quickly and we will have a beautiful Christmas and everything is good. It's hard to believe what we have been through in the last 12 months but we're sitting here now getting ready and it's going to be extra special."

Joe has had to accept he would never play his favourite game again, but has taken up golf instead - as well as deciding to run the marathon.

His hair has darkened as a result of the 12 different drugs that he takes four times a day, to stop infections and his body rejecting his heart. He will have to take them for the rest of his life.

After coming home in November he now has a place lined up at Lincoln University in September to study graphic design.

He said: "I can't get the scholarship at Berkeley now as I can't play rugby any more, but once I have done the three-year course I'm going to go back to America to get a job.

"I am just the same, I just can't play contact sports now, my new sport is golf."

Joe has decided to continue receiving medical care in America, which means a trip to California every three months for a check up and biopsies.

He said: "It's been an experience in life, but one that I wouldn't wish on anyone else."

His mother said: "We just want to thank everyone from the bottom of our hearts, because their support has been very, very appreciated and it has given us strength.

"We've been on a rollercoaster, but now we're at a new beginning. Joe is now going to take a different road, but I believe he will continue to inspire other people."