Hospital heroes perform three life-saving transplants in 17 hours

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It is the most transplants in such a short space of time at Royal Papworth, Cambridge – the UK’s leading heart and lung hospital – since 2018, when five patients received either a heart or lung replacement within 36 hours. And the hospital, which has kept its transplant unit open throughout the pandemic, now says it is receiving more donor organs because Covid cases are falling.

One of the three patients, Barry Edgson, 50, said he had been given a second chance at life following his double lung transplant.

He said: “Going into that operation was like being at the top of a rollercoaster getting ready to go.

“My dad died at the end of the last year and I remember thinking, ‘I’m not ready to meet you yet.’

“I put all my trust in the team at Royal Papworth and I knew they’d look after me. It still feels surreal that I’ve had the transplant.”

Barry, from Southend, Essex, had suffered with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), a condition that causes breathing difficulties, for about eight years and was desperately in need of surgery.

He said: “My condition got so bad I was on oxygen all the time. I could hardly walk.

“I have a five-year-old son and I’ve never been able to take him to school.

“I was so used to relying on oxygen that it feels strange to be able to breathe and walk along the corridor without it.

“But I’ve been given a second chance of life, thanks to my donor and the team at Royal Papworth, and I’m very, very grateful for that.”

Another thankful patient was Himanshu Patel, 45, from east London, who had a heart transplant at Royal Papworth in April.

Himanshu, who was not among the three who had surgery within 17 hours, said: “My brother lives in the USA and my parents live in India and none of them can believe what I’ve been through. It is so special.

“I pray for my donor every day when I wake up and give them God’s blessings.”

Royal Papworth medics managed 56 operations in 2019-2020 – 39 heart transplants and 17 lung replacements – roughly two-thirds of their normal total. But last month the number of transplant operations rose to 11, including the two heart replacements and Barry’s double lung surgery within 17 hours.

That is the highest total for a single month at the hospital since 13 were carried out in January 2019. The average number of monthly transplants is seven.

The donor organs used for the three operations in 17 hours came from three different hospitals and more than 20 staff were involved in retrieving and transplanting them.

One of the consultant surgeons involved, Umar Rafiq, said the feat was made possible because coronavirus cases had fallen and redeployed staff were returning to their roles.

He said: “People who die from Covid-19 are unable to donate their organs. So with the reduction in coronavirus patients in critical care and staff coming back from redeployment, we are now seeing an increase in organ donation offers and transplant activity.

“To do three transplants within 17 hours is a rare achievement and to do 11 transplants in a month is unusual.

“That’s more than 10 percent of our normal annual total during April alone and is a reflection of the dedication shown by all the staff, especially after such an intense year.”

Mr Rafiq added: “It’s really positive to see this upturn in activity and we hope that alongside the new opt-out system that was introduced in May 2020, this provides optimism for everyone else on transplant waiting lists.”

Since last May all adults in England are considered to have agreed to be an organ donor when they die unless they have formally opted out.

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