Liver transplant gives grandad new hope after discovery of three tumours
It was early evening, a signal to most that the person on the end of the phone is likely to be offering double glazing or promising to claim back PPI on your behalf.
For Gerry, it was a call which would save his life. New grandad Gerry was on the liver transplant list and a match had just been found.
“That was at 5.15pm and I had to be in the Royal for 6.30pm,” says the 59-year-old. “I had just got home from work and I was the only one in the house. It was a bit of a shock.”
When his wife, Doreen, 56, returned from work there was a mad panic to get everything ready for the hospital. The couple, together with their son, Jamie – who had become a father to Amelia just a month earlier – went to the hospital, followed by their daughter, Gemma, later.
The operation went ahead at 6am the following day – a year to the day he had been placed on the waiting list.
Gerry, from Corstorphine, is one of the latest patients of the Scottish Liver Transplant Unit in Edinburgh, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary.
He described his liver simply as a “gift of life”.
“Someone else has made the decision that on their death they want their organs to be donated to make someone else live,” he says.
“I’m fortunate someone has done that for me. The biggest thing for me is, all being well, I will have a healthy life and see my granddaughter growing up. I’m eternally grateful.”
Gerry, a commercial manager with defence company Selex, was originally referred to the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary four years ago after an ultrasound picked up a tumour on the edge of his liver. When a second growth on the other side of his liver showed up on a CT scan, he was assessed to see if he could undergo a transplant. Eventually it was decided to remove the tumours rather than carry out a transplant and, in March 2009, he had a liver resection operation.
He continued to have regular check-ups and everything was going well until May last year when a scan picked up another lesion. This time the tumour was treated using a medical procedure known as radiofrequency ablation, where radiofrequency waves are passed through a probe to destroy the cancerous cells. The operation was a success, but it had already been decided Gerry should go on the transplant list.
“The worry was, having had three tumours, the likelihood was even if they removed them they were going to come back,” he says.
Given that he was blood type B, shared by only two out of every 100 people in the UK, Gerry was prepared for a long wait. However, two days before New Year, a call came through from the unit, asking him to come in.
“They had a liver but it was for someone else,” he explains. “They were doing a transplant and it wasn’t going well in terms of removing this chap’s liver. They needed someone as a back-up.”
However, when the operation eventually went ahead successfully, Gerry was sent home and another seven months passed until the second call came on July 11. He was allowed to go home after ten days.
Although he will now have to take immunosuppressive drugs – also known as anti-rejection drugs – for the rest of his life, it is, he says, a small price to pay.
“There’s no doubt it’s stressful at the time but, at the end of the day, it’s a gift of life.”
The unit has carried out around 1090 liver transplants in its 20-year history. One of its first patients was Jean Kay, who had been diagnosed with primary biliary cirrhosis, a chronic long-term disease which had damaged her liver.
The 86-year-old from Comiston first realised all was not well while on a caravanning holiday in Perthshire.
“I was literally itching from head to foot and thought I must have an allergy.”
The diagnosis, however, was a “massive shock”. Despite being placed on medication and receiving regular check-ups, Jean’s condition quickly deteriorated.
“I soon started to notice that I was feeling more and more tired and less well, and one day, on a visit to outpatients, my doctor mentioned the possibility of a liver transplant.
“My first reaction was that I didn’t like the idea of someone dying so I could feel better, but my doctor told me not to look at it that way. He explained that when somebody dies and donates their organs after their death, it is their last wish to give the gift of life and their families will take great comfort in the knowledge that someone is being given a second chance after their loved one’s tragic loss. I knew I wasn’t going to get any better and that a transplant was my only chance.”
Jean was initially placed on the waiting list in Birmingham, but was transferred to the Edinburgh unit when it opened in 1992. In December of the same year, she became the fourth patient to receive a liver at the new unit.
“I was 66 when I heard the transplant could go ahead,” she says.
While the support of her husband and the team at the liver transplant unit played a huge part in her recovery, her biggest thanks goes to the donor who saved her life.
“There isn’t any other surgery that relies on the generosity of others to make it happen and their decision has given me a second chance at life, which is something I’m so grateful for.”
Ever-growing need for donors to sign up
MORE than 8000 people in the UK are currently waiting for an organ transplant and the need for donor organs is expected to grow as the surgery becomes increasingly common and more successful.
NHS Lothian’s Sign Up to Save A Life campaign aims to raise the number of people on the donor register from 42 per cent of the population to at least 50 per cent.
Any adult or child over the age of 12 can give permission for their organs or tissue to be donated by placing their name on the National Organ Donor Register at www.organdonation.nhs.uk, by texting “fifty” to 61611, or phoning 0845 60 60 400.
Alternatively, you can carry a Donor Card or record your wish to be a donor in a letter or document such as a will.
There is no age limit, with organs from people in their 80s being transplanted successfully.
In Scotland, around 35 per cent of relatives object to their loved one’s organs being donated, so anyone choosing to go on the donor register is advised to tell their family.
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