Celebrating 50th anniversary of first UK heart transplant

3 May 2018        

Category: Research

Today marks 50 years since Donald Ross led a team of eighteen to carry out the first heart transplant in the UK.

An image showing surgeons performing heart surgery

Fred West, the transplant recipient, survived for 45 days. The transplant, which took place at the National Heart Hospital in London on 3 May 1968, paved the way for years of pioneering research which has now saved countless lives.

After a spate of heart transplants in 1968 and 1969, it became obvious that the survival rates were not getting any better. They were stopped in the UK, and for the most part around the world, until 1979.

Pioneering research to improve survival rates

During this time, researchers around the world were working hard to improve outcomes. Donald Ross was at the forefront of this work, being funded by the BHF for 20 years of surgical advances.

Fortunately their efforts and ongoing research have resulted in huge strides of progress, and now most patients live for many years after a heart transplant. Since records began in 1980, NHS Blood and Transplant calculate that over 8,000 heart transplants have been carried out in the UK.

However the availability of donor hearts has never caught up with the number of people requiring a transplant, meaning there are around 290 people currently on the heart transplant waiting list.

Red more about the history of heart transplantation. 

Kieran's second life after a heart transplant

Kieran on his walk

Kieran Sandwell was one of the recipients of the 8,000 heart transplants which have taken place over the past 50 years.

Kieran had a heart transplant aged 38, after being born with a congenital heart defect and developing heart failure in his early 30s. After donating his old heart for BHF-funded research, Kieran is now using his ‘second life’ to fundraise for the BHF, walking the coast of Britain to raise money for the charity.

He is also a passionate advocate for the introduction of a soft opt-out organ donation system in England – a system which would mean there is ‘deemed consent' – a presumption in favour of consent for organ donation. Anyone who does not want to donate their organs can register their objection in advance. The government are currently consulting on this in parliament, and a recent survey we carried out showed that three quarters of the UK public are supportive of a soft opt-out system.

Read Kieran’s article for the Guardian about his experience