50 Years of Heart Transplantation

This week marked 50 whole years since the first heart transplant. As a heart and double lung transplant recipient, to me, this is a very poignant anniversary. Basically, I would not be alive and even writing this if it wasn’t for those people who were willing to push the boundaries of science and experiment with medical concepts which go beyond the pale.

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The very first heart transplant was carried out by Dr Christiaan Barnard, a surgeon at Groote Schur Hospital in Cape Town, South Africa. The recipient was Lois Washkansky, a patient terminally ill with heart failure. The donor, Denise Darvall, was a twenty five year old who suffered a fatal brain injury in a car crash. Her father, knowing she liked to help others, made the generous decision to donate her organs. I think all of us heart transplant recipients are thankful to these pioneering people, who were at the forefront of the whole process of heart transplantation.

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Heart transplantation has developed in leaps and bounds since then, with Sir Terence English performing the UK’s first successful heart transplant with long term success in 1979. This was due to the development of ciclospororin, an immunosuppressant that stops the body rejecting the heart.

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There are still challenges with heart transplantation. Firstly, the shortage of organ donors poses a problem. Fewer people die in circumstances where it is possible to donate organs due to advances in medicine and things such as improved car safety. Then, there is the fact that although patients are signed up to the organ donor register, families still refuse to give consent to an organ donation. This is usually because they didn’t know their loved one’s wishes.

Only 33% of the English population have signed up to the organ donor register with the ‘opt – in’ system currently used in England for organ donation. Whatever the system, ‘opt-in’ or the ‘opt-out’, that countries are using, it is so important to discuss your decision about organ donation with your family, whether you wish to be an organ donor or not. In the UK, families can override their loved one’s wishes.

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There are also still issues with rejection and there is ongoing research to develop anti-rejection medication to help improve the long term life expectancy of  heart transplant recipients. Existing anti-rejection medications come with a number of problems – they have to be taken for life, cause difficult side effects and cause increased risks of infection and cancer. As many heart transplant recipients will know, it can be a constant battle of balancing anti-rejection medications, with medications to prevent infection and side effects.

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As a heart transplant recipient, I’m forever grateful that I’m living in an era where this procedure has been possible and has enabled me to have extra years with my family and friends. It’s hard to imagine that just over 50 years ago, this procedure wasn’t even possible and amazing to contemplate just how much the whole process of transplantation has developed since then.  Having a transplant has meant I’ve been able to live life to the full and reach many special milestones in my life during the last few years.

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This special anniversary has made me stop and think about all the people who have helped to progress the process of transplantation to where it is today. I shall always be grateful to them. It is thanks to them that I can enjoy my life here and now. I’m always forever grateful to my own surgeon and his team, who performed my transplant and my transplant team who look after me constantly to keep me in optimum health. The whole team continue to strive for improvement to the transplant processes and improving our quality of life through research.

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Recently, Papworth Hospital was the first UK hospital to perform Europe’s first heart transplant from a non-beating heart donor. (DCD Heart transplant programme) Another enormous breakthrough in the process of heart transplantation and a way forward to help increase the number of possible heart transplants being performed. The DCD heart programme is currently being rolled out to all the other heart transplant centres in the UK

It goes without saying, that non of these processes would be possible without our donors and their families, who give the consent to organ donation. I’m grateful to my donor and their family each and every day for the new life they have given me.

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Childhood Memories

 

 

Have you ever wanted to revisit those memories of your childhood?

I’ve been visiting Cumbria the whole of my life, Rob and I spend a lot of our spare time there. We’ve visited so many places in the vicinity both touristy ones and those that are more out on the beaten track – the places to go are endless and there’s always somewhere new where we haven’t ever explored.

On a recent visit, I kept on thinking about a beach my family used to visit when I was a young girl. We’d had a few caravan holidays there – one had been during a glorious summer – you know one of those we often remember when we think of summer holidays in our younger days. We’d spent hours playing on that beach and paddling and splashing around in the sea.

We’d stayed again the following year – that time it rained and didn’t ever stop, so much so that in the end my parents packed all the bags up and we came home early.

The stay during the glorious summer is the one I recall. I decided to go in search of this lovely sandy beach at Sandscale Haws just for old times sake. I was totally delighted to find that it belongs to the National Trust and is designated as an outstanding dune habitat, which supports a wealth of wildlife including Natterjack Toads, rare plants and a wealth of bird life.

The beautiful sandy beach has far reaching views across the Lake District and overlooks the stunning Duddon Estuary – we often explore around this estuary and the River Duddon, an area of the Western Lakes that is relatively quiet and unspoilt.

It was a pleasure to rediscover it all over again.

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Continuing on the nostalgic theme, I had an overwhelming urge to have a drive through the Blackpool Illuminations – again it was something we always did as a family when I was young and again with my own children when they were little.

When we arrived at Blackpool, I couldn’t quite understand why it was so quiet.  I was remembering heaving traffic jams on the seafront, but on this visit we were the only car driving down by the promenade and there were hundreds of parking spaces.

It was as though we were experiencing our very own personal Illuminations display. We found out later that the light display had finished over a week ago and that they had put the Illuminations back on just for that evening because Strictly Come Dancing was being held in the Blackpool Tower. We had just got lucky!

It was lovely to take a few trips back to those memories of childhood and make more new ones.

 

 

Sunrise Over Dallham

It’s nearing the end of autumn as we head towards December. Although we’ve had some rainy and dull days here and there, I think it’s been a truly glorious autumn. We had a very dry spring, followed by quite a wet summer, which helped the thirsty trees play catch up. With that has followed some stunning tree displays, which have continued on through October and into November.

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There’s been some glorious sunrises too, and Rob and I were recently in Cumbria and took the opportunity to watch the sun come up over the Dallham Estate on a very cold and frosty morning.

 

A simple pleasure, but a priceless one. There’s nothing more beautiful than seeing the breathtaking sight of a brand new day dawning. It gives the sense of empowerment to start afresh and put yesterday’s stresses and worries away and into the past.