âI was at home about to have dinner when I saw my mom take a call. She told my dad it was the hospital. I put the spoon down – something told me it was the call, âshe said.
Mary Poku was 13 when she received cancer treatment. âAs a teenager, I just wanted to go back to school, but I was getting weaker and weaker. My heart was beating really fast and I was out of breath all the time, âshe recalls.
Mary was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy – a disease of the heart muscle that affects its size, shape, or thickness. In Mary’s case, her heart had enlarged and was no longer able to pump enough blood around her body. He was told his only option was to have a heart transplant. That was 36 years ago.
At the time, heart transplantation was considered a somewhat controversial operation. âAt the time, my parents were not at all in favor of my having an operation, because in 1985 only 200 people had had operations in the UK,â she says.
World-renowned BHF-funded surgeon Professor Sir Magdi Yacoub performed Mary’s heart transplant. Sir Yacoub, together with Sir Terence English, helped make heart transplantation a successful reality in the UK in the late 1970s and 1980s. In fact, it was Sir English who performed the first. heart transplant in UK with long term success in 1979 – just six years before Mary’s operation.
The surgery that saved my life
âI actually broke down in tears the first time I met Sir Magdi Yacoub,â recalls Mary. âI had come to a point in my life where I was really fed up. Sir Magdi persuaded my parents and gave them the courage to have me operated on, and I am so grateful that he did!
Mary and her mother were picked up by an ambulance within an hour of receiving the call – the call telling them a donor heart had become available. Mary remembers that she was not afraid of the operation itself, but rather worried about the risk of infection. âYou just get tough when you’ve been sick for so long as a teenager,â she says.
âI am so grateful to the donor for giving me another chance at life. “
Recovery and beyond
Currently around 200 heart or heart-lung transplants are performed in the UK each year, but challenges remain. About one in six people do not get the heart transplant they need. âI would like to see efforts to use all available hearts, to increase awareness among the population. There are people who die – children, adults – in their prime, people like Mary, who can benefit enormously from such a gift. It is literally a gift of life, âsays Sir Magdi Yacoub.
After the operation, Mary managed to return to school. She then qualified as a lawyer and is now an esteemed lawyer. Today, she leads a healthy lifestyle by exercising daily and watching what she eats. âIf I take care of myself, I take care of my heart, and that’s my way of thanking the donor. It’s a small sacrifice to extend the longevity of my heart, âshe says.
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