Delivering care through collaboration

Heart recipient Euan Bisset will celebrate his 30th birthday in the 30th anniversary year of the transplant service

Today (Thursday) marks 30 years of life-saving heart transplantation in Scotland as one patient looks forward to his own 30th birthday celebration this festive period.

The service began at the Glasgow Royal Infirmary on 16 December 1991 before the country’s first historic heart transplant was carried out on January 2, 1992.

During those 3 decades, 445 lives have been saved through the service following the gift of life from donors and their families who have selflessly supported the donation of organs so others can live.

Of that figure, 281 transplants were carried out in the Glasgow hospital, while 164 have been performed at NHS Golden Jubilee in Clydebank since the service moved there in 2008.

Patient Euan Bisset, from Muir of Ord near Inverness, turns 30 on 26 December thanks to a life-saving heart transplant in 2018.

Euan, a keen mountain bike racer, worked as a welder for his family’s company before his operation. He was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy and cardiomyopathy in 2009 and received an implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD) in 2015.

His condition worsened severely until he was told he would need a new heart in 2018 and he was admitted to the National Services Division (NSD) ward at the Golden Jubilee on the urgent list.

Euan said: “When one of the surgeons told me that my ‘heart wasn’t good’, I knew it was serious, but I welcomed the diagnosis as I had gradually been feeling worse over the years.

“I was really lucky, I only had to wait about 4 weeks after I went on the urgent list and I just remember being wheeled away and I didn’t wake up until 11 days later because there were complications.

“My new heart wasn’t pumping the blood right straight away and it was very touch and go and I was in ICU for weeks and had some problems afterwards too.

“I was so weak I basically had to learn to walk again, walking with a frame, but the physios and everyone else were brilliant and eventually got me onto a bike and I just kept going from there, building my strength up again.

“I think I walk a bit differently now, more robotically with my arms, it’s weird, but it’s a good trade.

“I’m doing really good now. I think this year is the first time since 2018 that I’ve not spent time in any hospital, apart from check-ups. I’ve had some problems but my heart feels perfect.

“I’ve had my latest scans and they’re very happy with it and, even though I’ll need care for the rest of my life, my check-ups are getting further apart.

“It’s a miracle to still be alive and I’m just really grateful. Emotionally, it’s hard knowing that someone died for me to be alive, but it’s comforting knowing that’s what they wanted, and I know that if circumstances were different, I would do the same.

“I want my donor’s family to know that their loss has turned into something positive by saving my life and with my new heart I try my very best every day to make it count.”

Theatre Co-ordinator Hazel Colquhoun is vastly experienced in cardiac services serving in many senior roles over the past 30 years and played a leading role in the first Scottish team which went to the specialist Harefield Hospital in Uxbridge to learn how to retrieve organs for transplantation in Scotland in the set-up stage.

Hazel said: “I always liked doing things that were unpredictable. In cardiac surgery I don’t know what I’m going to do that day because it changes so much, but I’ll know what I’ve done at the end of the day.

“I remember the first transplant when it was done as our team went out through the night and I actually still have our off-duty book for that day.

“It’s a special thing. When I first did retrieval you wouldn’t know anything at all about the person whose organ you are retrieving, but that’s all changed and you know the circumstances now, which I think makes the process much better.

“I’ve seen all kinds from kidney to liver and heart. I think the first time you retrieve organs from someone and see them going into someone else is like the ‘Circle of Life’ for me.

“The transplants we used to do probably wouldn’t need to be a transplant today thanks to advances in drugs and how things have moved on.

“The patients we get for transplant now are really sick and desperately need a transplant. We used to do transplants and be in and out in under 4.5 or 5 hours, but nowadays it can take longer due to the patient’s condition.”

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Hazel, 2nd from right, pictured during transplant surgery at the old unit in Glasgow

The highly skilled transplant team has been resilient throughout the COIVD-19 pandemic and has carried out 41 heart transplants over that period, overcoming difficulties to ensure the high level of safety and patient care was maintained.

Hazel added: “It’s good for us to have the Retrieval Programme here at NHS Golden Jubilee giving us involvement in the whole transplantation journey.

“The team has done a lot over the last few years, going into COVID hospitals in full PPE now, working through this pandemic amazing well, with the on-call team doing a large amount of transplants.

“The team has worked extremely hard and within teams like this it’s like having a second family you are so close to each other.”

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Consultant Cardiologist Dr Jane Cannon

NHS Golden Jubilee Consultant Cardiologist in Advanced Heart Failure and Cardiac Transplantation, Dr Jane Cannon, said: “A lot has changed in the world of cardiac transplantation over the past 30 years. 

“As technology evolves, so too does our clinical practice. One example of this would be the development of the Organ Care System (OCS) which is a medical device used in the transportation of donor hearts.

“It allows the organ to be transported for longer distances. Rather than the traditional method of preserving an organ through cold storage, this perfuses the blood of the donor through the heart at a temperature more similar to the human body. 

“In Scotland especially, this allows us a wider access to donor organs from all over the UK - as the heart can travel safely from further afield.

“As well as surgical advances, there have also been advances in transplant medicine. The immunosuppression regimes used to prevent rejection post cardiac transplant have evolved over the years due to advances in medical research and clinical experience.

“The aim of all of this development is to allow access to transplantation to those patients for whom it is needed in a timely manner with the best chance of survival during the operation and the best long term prognosis - so that they can spend many years living with a healthy heart.

“All in all, it has been a very positive journey for cardiac transplantation over the past 30 years and we look forward to an exciting next 30 years!”

For more information about heart failure, and the services at NHS Golden Jubilee, visit: NHSGoldenJubilee.co.uk.

For details about organ donation, visit organdonationscotland.org.

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