When Sandy Law, 67, received a heart transplant at the Royal Papworth Hospital in November 1982, she was their youngest patient to successfully undergo the operation.
Forty years later and after a second heart replacement in 2005, Ms Law is now the longest surviving heart transplant recipient in the UK.
She told Latest Page News Anglia she was feeling “ecstatic”.
“It’s just unreal. It doesn’t feel like 40 years to me. I’m just happy — over the moon,” she said. “The biggest extra I had was being with my husband all those years, which is wonderful.”
To mark the big milestone, she and her husband Terry were invited to a special celebration at the Royal Papworth Hospital in Cambridge, where she was reunited with the two surgeons who performed her transplants.
“When I was a child I was told I would have died before the age of 30, there was no doubt about that,” said Ms Law, who now lives in Newcastle.
“In 1982 I was 27 and so ill that Terry carried me downstairs in the morning. I would stay in one place all day and he would cook everything, wash everything, clean everything. I lived, but I had no life.”
Ms Law had a genetic condition called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM), a disease her mother died of when she was just 39 years old.
As with her mother, her defect showed up as a heart murmur during a check-up after birth.
In 1979, a team from what was then Papworth Hospital, led by Sir Terence English, performed the first successful heart transplant in Britain.
In November 1982, while suffering from heart failure, Mrs Law became the third woman to have surgery at Papworth, also performed by Sir Terence.
Her first donor heart lasted 23 years, until she developed coronary artery disease – a known complication of heart transplants.
For the second time she was placed on the waiting list to be matched with a suitable donor, with the operation being performed in 2005 by a team led by Mr Steven Tsui who still works at the Royal Papworth Hospital today.
Mr. Tsui said it is very unusual for patients to be fit enough for a second transplant
“Of 1,650 patients who have had a heart transplant at Royal Papworth Hospital over the past 43 years, Sandy is just one of 31 to have had a second heart transplant.
“So we are delighted that Sandy was 23 years post her first heart transplant and 17 years post her second transplant to date. It’s a miracle.”
Now retired, she and her husband happily travel around the UK and Europe from the comfort of their motorhome – returning to Papworth for regular check-ups when needed.
Anthony Clarkson, director of organ and tissue donation and transplantation at NHS Blood and Transplant, said: “It’s amazing to hear that Sandy has had such a long and happy life thanks to her heart transplants.
“This would not be possible without the precious donors and their families who save lives during the most difficult time for them.
“Sandy’s story and that of other transplant recipients brings hope to the thousands of patients, including hundreds of children, who are currently on the organ transplant waiting list.
“Please register your organ donation decision in the NHS organ donation register aand share it with your family.”
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