Image: Cousins Fraser Wilson and Louise Campbell both received heart transplants at the age of 45
The team at NHS Golden Jubilee’s Scottish National Advanced Heart Failure Service (SNAHFS) are celebrating this Organ Donation Week after hitting the historic milestone of the 500th Scottish Heart Transplant.
After carrying out a record number of 40 heart transplants in Scotland in a single year last year (2022/23), the team have marked this next major milestone in cardiac treatment for patients in Scotland.
This achievement could not have happened without the gift of life from donors and their families who have selflessly supported the donation of organs so others can live.
New technology and changes in how donated hearts are retrieved and the organ donation law have helped heart transplantation in Scotland thrive, giving people with heart failure the chance to live longer.
Transplant Surgeon Phil Curry said: “It’s been a great achievement to reach this significant milestone in heart transplantation in Scotland since it began 31 years ago, and a record number last year.
“There are numerous factors which have led to that over the last 3 years. Initially we thought the recent rise in Scottish transplants was due to our service being uninterrupted during the COVID-19 pandemic and we were able to do more, but since then the numbers have sustained over the last 2 years.
“So that leads us to believe it is a combination of new technologies and innovations we’ve introduced here at NHS Golden Jubilee.
“One major factor is the Organ Care System (Heart in a Box), which extends the amount of time a donated organ can remain outside the body in a condition suitable for transplantation for Donation after Circulatory Death (DCD) hearts, which now account for a large percentage of our transplant activity that we didn’t have 5 years ago.
“Also registration for organ donation has been higher in Scotland over the last few years following the opt-out change in the law in 2020, which has definitely helped us to increase our numbers.”
Transplantation is only possible thanks to the generosity of organ donors. Every year, Organ and Tissue Donation Week raises awareness of the importance of making your decision known on the Organ Donation Register, as well as paying tribute to organ donors and families who have given the gift of life to others.
NHS Golden Jubilee Transplant Co-ordinator, Jane Lockhart, started her career at Glasgow Royal Infirmary in 2001 after working for several years in renal transplant.
She said: “There’s lots of different things I love about this job, working as part of our small team where both staff and patients are like one family.
“It’s a very unique role because you get to follow a patient’s story for the rest of their lives.
“It is lifelong care after transplant and I’ve known patients for 22 years now. I’ve met their children, seen photographs of their children getting married and seen their lives progress with a new healthy heart, all thanks to those who choose to give people the gift of life through organ donation.”
Mr Curry added: “The heart transplant operation itself is only a small portion of any patient’s journey. When a patient comes in and gets assessed and goes through that pathway, eventually to transplantation, there are a lot of teams involved in the process.
“From the whole SNAHFS team, the ward staff, nursing staff, physiotherapists, intensive care staff, co-ordinators, doctors, dieticians, the dedication of the theatre teams, clinical perfusionists, pharmacists and anaesthetists, they all play a major part in the patient’s journey.
“They are all essential components, both before and after a patient’s operation, working together to the end to get the patient home to start their chapter in life.
“It’s a big team effort to get them there, but none of it would be possible without the donors and their families and for that we are all extremely grateful.”
For more information on Organ Donation Week and how to register your decision, www.organdonation.nhs.uk.
The Scottish Advanced Heart Failure Service began more than 30 years ago at Glasgow’s Royal Infirmary on 16 December 1991 before the country’s first historic heart transplant was carried out on January 2, 1992. NHS Golden Jubilee has been the sole provider of Scottish heart transplants since 2008.
To date 503 heart transplants have been carried out in Scotland. Of that figure, 222 transplants have been at the Clydebank based Golden Jubilee University National Hospital.
Cousins Fraser Wilson, 46, from Glasgow, and Louise Campbell, 47, from Wishaw, were both 45 when they had heart transplants at the Golden Jubilee University National Hospital.
They both have the genetic disease Cardiomyopathy and Fraser’s mum, Louise’s dad and 2 of their uncles have all died of it.
Fraser and Louise as children, above
Fraser, an area director for a bank from Glasgow, was one of the 40 people to receive a heart transplant at NHS Golden Jubilee last year.
He was diagnosed with dilated cardiomyopathy when he was just 14.
Fraser said: “My life was relatively normal up until the start of 2022. I was diagnosed with heart failure around 5 years ago and had an Implantable Cardioverter-Defibrillator (ICD) implanted in 2018, but then my health really started to deteriorate last January.
“I was in the Golden Jubilee for 5-and-a-half months after going in on Halloween last year. The first few weeks were really tough but after that it was fine and I was just waiting for a new heart.
“It’s phenomenal having this new heart, it’s hard to describe. I just feel like everything has been sorted in me, like a 30-year weight has been lifted off my shoulders.
“Because I was diagnosed so young I always just assumed I was going to die young, but now I genuinely have a new lease of life, it’s amazing.
“I always thought positively of organ donation and wanted to be an organ donor, but wasn’t sure if my organs would be particularly useful. But going through this process I obviously have a much better appreciation of all organ donation now.
“My situation also made my family and friends, every single one of them, became pro organ donation after seeing what I was going through and my partner Amy, who has been absolutely amazing through it all, straight away went and registered her decision to be an organ donor.
“It’s been really overwhelming to see how supportive everyone has been towards the concept of organ donation.”
Louise had an implanted defibrillator fitted when she was just 18. She received her new heart in 2020 at the Golden Jubilee University National Hospital, 4 years after her son Ethan was born there when, due to her heart condition, she had to be closely monitored during pregnancy.
Ethan, who has non-verbal autism, weighed just 2 pounds when he was born prematurely, but he bravely defied the odds to survive and is now thriving 7-year-old.
Louise’s transplant has not only saved her life, it has also given her a new lease of life which she is now living to the full.
Louise said: “I had my transplant just before Ethan’s second birthday and spent a lot time on hospital afterwards, but 15 months later I was back at work again.
“I worked for a local authority in the Housing department, but after my transplant I wanted to live my life to the fullest so I quit my job and went to study a Masters in social work and I’m in my second year now.
“I love the quiz show Countdown and the nurses at the Jubilee would distract me with it when I was learning to walk again, so I decided to apply to go on and was chosen to be a contestant, which was amazing.
“My new heart has given me a whole new life and I wouldn’t have done these things if I hadn’t had my transplant.
“We as a family spoke a lot about organ donation. One of my mum’s cousins donated his organs after he passed away and that brought them, as a family, comfort.
“As a recipient I have a huge appreciation for my heart that someone has decided to give me. It’s more than donating an organ, it’s giving someone their life back, it’s a whole life that impacts your family and friends, it gives people a future.
“The times I really feel it is anything to do with my boy Ethan like birthdays or school shows. He’s 7 now and I’m still here and I’m getting to see it all with him thanks to my donor.
“Whoever my donor is hasn’t just given me new life, it’s changed my child’s life as well, but I know this came from a loss from another family so it’s hard to deal with sometimes, but all you can do is live your life for them and make it meaningful.”