Heart transplant

Royal Papworth Hospital: Longest living heart transplant patient celebrates 38th anniversary of operation

A 58-year-old celebrates the 38th anniversary of his successful heart transplant at the Royal Papworth Hospital in Cambridge this month. Richard Worthington is the oldest patient to undergo treatment at the hospital and one of the oldest survivors in the world.

Richard was one of the first 100 people to receive a new heart at the Royal Papworth, after undergoing surgery in 1984. He was admitted to NHS hospital as a teenager after being diagnosed with viral cardiomyopathy which left caused severe heart failure.

In the years that followed, he got married, had four children, and lived an ordinary life that otherwise wouldn’t have been possible without his new heart. Richard attributes this to the support of those around him and his determination to get back to normal after his operation.

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Speaking to Cambridgeshire Live, he said: “If you have a meaningful life with goals, I think that helps with recovery. It also helps with having a positive mental attitude and a loving family. But in the end Ultimately, it’s really all down to the doctors, nurses and therapists who helped me along the way.”

Dr Stephen Pettit, clinical manager of the transplant unit at the Royal Papworth, disagrees. He said: “I think his excellent result reflects the fact that he is a very, very diligent patient, taking his medication exactly as prescribed and going to all the follow-up appointments he has been given. given over the years.”

But it also depends on the team: “The transplant team here works very hard to make sure that each of our patients gets the best possible outcome,” Dr. Pettit said.

Richard during a visit to the Royal Papworth in 2019

Although undergoing the rare procedure seems daunting, Richard says it all happened so quickly that he didn’t have time to fear it. He said: “It was 1983 and I was coming home from university. I got lost and was very cold.

“Once I got home my dad put me in a bath and I was very weak and basically oblivious to what was going on around me.” He was then taken to doctors who sent him to St George’s Hospital in London before finally being sent to Cambridge for his operation in April the following year.

“The last thing I remember is having my abdomen shaved and having surgery straight away,” Richard said. “I didn’t have time to worry about it, but by the time they ripped out my heart, it was twice its normal size.”

The speed with which Richard was able to have surgery was all the more “phenomenal” because of his “rare blood type and tissue type”, says Richard. But getting a donor heart isn’t always so quick and easy.

Dr Pettit explained: “The procedure we do now is very similar to what we did in the 1980s, but the wait times for a heart transplant and indeed for all types of organ transplants are long. they are too long.

“The transplant units can only do what they do if people are generous enough to donate organs. You can sign up to be a donor online or when you get your driver’s license, but It’s not enough.

“You have to tell your loved ones what you want, because in the dreadful situation where someone becomes a potential organ donor, the team always asks the next of kin if they’re ok to go. before and the family has the last word.”

Richard continues to check in for follow-up appointments at the Royal Papworth Hospital, which he says has “very friendly staff” who even threw him a party on his first discharge. He was able and continues to live a full and happy life thanks to organ donation.

Survival rates have improved in each decade since Richard’s operation and bringing people like him back to life is why they do the work they do, says the Royal Papworth.

Dr Pettit said: “The transplant is an incredible thing and it has given Richard back decades and decades of life he would not have had otherwise. And it was made possible by the generosity of the general British public. .”