Heart transplant

Scottish heart transplant service celebrates 30 years

Euan Bisset will celebrate his 30th birthday this month, a milestone he shares with the service that saved his life.

Scotland’s first heart transplant unit was launched at Glasgow Royal Infirmary on December 16, 1991 and a few weeks later, on January 2, 1992, the first patient received a donor organ.

Since the launch of the service, more than 445 transplants have been performed including 164 at Golden Jubilee Hospital in Clydebank, which resumed service in 2008.

“It’s a miracle to be still alive,” said the 29-year-old Muir of Ord, near Inverness, who turns 30 on Boxing Day, two years after receiving his new heart.

He was diagnosed with Becker’s muscular dystrophy at age 17, which caused cardiomyopathy, a disease of the heart muscle.

A great-uncle and another close relative suffered from hereditary muscle atrophy and died of heart complications at a time when heart transplants were not an option. His younger brother James is also affected.

He was fitted with a 2015 Cardiovertor Defibrillator (DCI) that can detect abnormal heart rhythms, but his condition worsened severely and he was placed on the “urgent” list for a transplant in 2018.

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“When one of the surgeons told me my ‘heart was out’ I knew it was serious,” said Mr Bisset who had to give up his job for the family welding business and his hobby of mountain biking.

“But I welcomed the diagnosis because I felt progressively less well over the years.

“I was very lucky I only had to wait about four weeks after being put on the emergency list and I just remember being fired and woke up only 11 days later because that there were complications.


“My new heart wasn’t pumping blood right away and it was very fluid and I was in intensive care for weeks and had some issues after that.”

The recovery process was a long one for the 29-year-old due to the combined effects of his illness and he had to relearn how to walk. However, this is the first year he hasn’t spent time in the hospital, and doctors are happy with his progress.

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“I’m doing really well now. I had a few problems but my heart feels perfect.

“It’s a miracle to be still alive and I’m really, really grateful. Emotionally, it’s hard to know that someone is dead for me to be alive.

“The family did a very brave thing in what is essentially their darkest hour.

“If I could tell them something, it would be that I do my best day in and day out to get to where I want to be. I want to mountain bike again, work and do what everyone else does. ”

The first heart transplant in the UK, on ​​May 3, 1968, was the tenth in the world and was performed at the National Heart Hospital in London.

Dr Jane Cannon, consultant transplant cardiologist at Golden Jubilee Hospital, said medical advancements have transformed heart transplantation for patients and surgeons.

She said, “Technology is changing all the time, so clinical practice is changing in terms of the equipment that we have to use.


“One example is the organ care system we now use to transport hearts. So traditionally a heart was put in a box with ice to cool it down, but the time you had to transport that heart was limited.

“The organ care system is called heart in a box, so the heart is perfused with donor’s blood, which means it’s safe for longer travel time. Therefore, you can take hearts from further afield to the UK knowing that it is well preserved.


“Over the years we have traditionally used donors from brainstem death, but now we are using donors from circulatory death and with those hearts we are using the organ care system to transport them.

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“The medical aspect has also changed in terms of immunosuppression. There is less rejection now due to advances in immunology through research, so the types of drugs that we can use to preserve a donor’s heart have changed dramatically.

Dr Cannon is not convinced that the future of heart transplantation will be dominated by artificial hearts.

“Harefield where I worked used total artificial hearts so it was the only hospital in the UK to do this but the results weren’t very good at all so it’s now stopped in the UK .

“I think there will always be a place for human heart transplantation. It will be interesting to see what happens over the next 30 years.

Theater coordinator Hazel Colquhoun led the Scottish First Team to Harefield Hospital in Uxbridge to learn how to retrieve organs for transplant in Scotland during the preparation phase.

She said: “I think the first time you take an organ from someone and you see them go into someone else, it’s like the ‘circle of life’ for me.”