Breagha Patterson of Goulburn is living on the frontline of a medical breakthrough.
Last July, the 21-year-old was diagnosed with end-stage heart failure, and it was unlikely she would survive long enough to find a heart donor for a transplant.
The girl with no pulse
Breagha Patterson feels "wonderful" after becoming the first person in Australia to be fitted with an MVAD device that pumps her heart for her, although she now has no readable pulse.
It was a situation her family had experienced before.
Ms Patterson's younger sister, Isla, started showing symptoms of heart failure in 2013 while the Patterson family were holidaying in Scotland.
She did not have access to a heart pump called the HVAD, that continues the circulation of blood around the body while the patient waits for a heart transplant.
Eventually, Isla underwent the HVAD implant procedure but was too weak to survive, and died at the age of 17.
Upon returning to Australia, Breagha Patterson was diagnosed with the same hereditary heart disease as her sister.
"Breagha had quite advanced cardiomyopathy," said her mother, Maggie Patterson. "It was just that she had a young body which was compensating to hide the symptoms."
By July last year, Ms Patterson couldn't walk up stairs or sleep on her back. "Her heart could have stopped at any moment," her mother said.
Rather than accept an HVAD implant, Ms Patterson decided to take part in a medical trial being conducted a St Vincent's Hospital Sydney of a new pump, the MVAD, which is roughly a third of the size of the former device.
She was the first person in Australia and the third in the world to receive the implant.
"As a research study, we are never sure of the outcome," said Ms Patterson's surgeon, Dr Christopher Hayward. "But we were confident in the technology and preliminary pre-clinical studies."
HeartWare, the American company that makes both the HVAD and MVAD, expects the smaller size of the device will allow it to cater to a larger number of end-stage heart failure patients because it involves a less invasive implant procedure.
Its trial will be considered a success if the device functions correctly for two years.
Six months in and Ms Patterson has had no issues and is feeling much better.
"Right now I am just working on my fitness and enjoying my health," she said. "I am playing table tennis, practising walking up the stairs and the driveway. Dad says I am walking too quickly now!"
Ms Patterson's heart pump is powered by a battery pack that sits on her waist and must be recharged every 10 hours. The battery is connected to the MVAD through a cord that passes through her skin under her ribcage.
Because her blood is pumped by a small impeller that spins continuously, she does not have a readable pulse.
"It's not as much of a big deal as you might think," Ms Patterson said.
"I think some people find it confronting because it reminds them of their own mortality. I just try to act like a normal person, which I think is the right thing to do."
She says her health issues have taught her to appreciate her life and family.
"It sounds cheesy, but it's true," she said. "Also, the kindness of others. Every time I visit Level 10 of St Vincent's Hospital, the staff run up and hug me."
Ms Patterson says she is excited that more people could have access to the MVAD implant in the future.
"Isla didn't have this opportunity. Breagha has been given the opportunity to choose life," her mother said.