Charity marks 50 years of heart transplants

Gordon MacDonald (with his wife Irene), who had the first successful heart transplant in the UK in 1979.
Gordon MacDonald (with his wife Irene), who had the first successful heart transplant in the UK in 1979.
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Today marks the 50th anniversary of the world’s first human heart transplant.

Louis Washkansky was the recipient on 3 December 1967 and the first patient to regain consciousness following the operation, carried out by Christiaan Barnard in Cape Town.

South African surgeon Christiaan Barnard, who performed the first successful human heart transplant on 3 December 1967. Picture: Hulton Archive/Getty Images

South African surgeon Christiaan Barnard, who performed the first successful human heart transplant on 3 December 1967. Picture: Hulton Archive/Getty Images

A Lithuanian who migrated to South Africa in 1922, Washkansky lived for 18 days and was able to speak to his wife and reporters before he died of pneumonia.

The British Heart Foundation (BHF) Scotland is marking the occasion by highlighting that – thanks to the work of their research teams and generosity of supporters – about 70 per cent of heart transplant recipients now survive for at least five years.

Last year was the 25th anniversary of heart transplantation in Scotland, which was marked at the Golden Jubilee National Hospital in Clydebank.

James Cant, director at BHF Scotland, said: “Fifty years ago today, history was made with the first human heart transplant in Cape Town, South Africa and the first UK heart transplant followed a few months later.

Harry Prentice received the heart of a 30-year-old man from England. Picture: Lisa Ferguson

Harry Prentice received the heart of a 30-year-old man from England. Picture: Lisa Ferguson

“The British Heart Foundation has been one of the driving forces behind heart transplantation since the mid-60s, funding the people and projects that have made this life-saving procedure possible.”

The first successful heart transplant carried out in the UK was on Gordon MacDonald, from Nairn, who had life-saving surgery at Papworth Hospital in Cambridgeshire in 1979. The father-of-two, who described himself as “the luckiest man in the world”, died aged 66 in August 2006.

Cant said: “Heart transplants can provide a lifeline for people with irreversibly diseased or damaged hearts. Our research is helping to improve transplantation and tackle issues such as organ rejection, which in the future will help more people to live long and healthy lives with their new heart.”

“Research taking place at our Centre of Regenerative Medicine in Edinburgh will help to bring us closer to the day when we can repair a damaged heart without the need for transplants. But this is not enough. We need to give those waiting for a new heart the best chance of actually receiving a healthy organ.”

The Scottish Government announced in June its intention to bring forward legislation to introduce soft opt-out organ donation.

On Friday, the youngest patient on the UK transplant waiting list, an eight-week old baby, received a new heart. Charlie Douthwaite, who suffers from hypoplastic left heart syndrome, had a nine-hour operation at Newcastle’s Freeman Hospital. His mother, Tracie Wright, thanked the donor family for giving him “a second chance at life”.

CASE STUDY

Harry Prentice had a life-saving heart transplant aged just 18.

The 23-year-old (below), from Braehead in South Lanarkshire, who is studying food science and technology, spent two years with a fitted left ventricular assist device keeping his heart pumping, before he received the heart of a 30-year-old man from England. Prentice said: “I attend the gym twice a week with a personal trainer and I can train with my Golden Retrievers and I have a good quality of life at the moment.”