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22 November 2017

World’s longest surviving heart transplant patient celebrates 35th anniversary

Sandy Law - believed to be the world’s longest surviving heart transplant patient - was celebrating the 35th anniversary of her life-saving operation today.

She was 27 when she became the second woman and the youngest person to be given a new heart at Papworth Hospital on 22 November, 1982.

Suffering severe heart failure, inherited from her mother who died aged 39, Sandy – now the only surviving member of her family on her mother’s side - grew up with a life expectancy of 35. “I expected to die,” she said. “At least, I really didn’t expect to live beyond my mid-30s.”

Now 62, Sandy says it was “sheer luck” that she ended up on Papworth’s heart transplant waiting list.

“I was 23 when I first became ill, suffering with breathlessness and pain. My condition – hypertrophic obstructive cardiomyopathy – meant the muscles in my heart had grown too big and it had become as tight as a rugby ball.

“I was being treated at Birmingham’s Queen Elizabeth Hospital and a surgeon who happened to come by to look at me said he wanted to send me to Papworth. At that point heart transplants were still totally experimental, but it was a huge relief when they told me it was going to happen.

“I remember Mr [Terence] English telling me that the success of the operation depended 25 per cent on his skill as a surgeon, 25 per cent on the drugs and 50 per cent on how I dealt with it. And it was a success – the best outcome was that the heart might last 15 years, in the end it lasted 23 years.

“The best way I can describe it is that I went into the operating theatre ill and came out of it well. Terry, my husband, says his biggest memory of seeing me for the first time after the transplant was that my usually purple toes were all of a sudden pink, because the blood was now being pumped properly."

On 12 August, 2005, Sandy was given a second donor heart at Papworth – transplanted by Consultant Surgeon Mr Steven Tsui - after her first donor heart failed.

Although the first few months immediately after the second transplant were a struggle, Sandy was soon enjoying a normal life once again.

“It didn’t hold me back; my cardiologist, Dr Jayan Parameshwar, came up with a drug regime that worked and stopped my body rejecting the heart – he deserves a medal for the work he does.”

Sandy, who stays active managing a touring caravan site in Hertfordshire with Terry, and is looking forward to their annual two-month winter break in Spain, said her experience has made her determined to make the most of her life.

“When I think of the extra years I’ve had because of the skill and dedication of staff at Papworth, I do realise how lucky I am – especially to have had not one but two donor hearts. It makes you live for the day and gives you such a positive outlook.”

Mr Tsui said: “We are delighted that Sandy has done so well, and has gained 35 years of life since her first heart transplant at Papworth. She is particularly lucky to have received two heart transplants – of the more than 1,400 patients who have had a heart transplant at Papworth, only 32 have been suitable for a second transplant.

“We hope that Sandy will continue to enjoy life and remain well for many years to come.”

 

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