UK's first baby heart transplant survivor's surprise tribute to the women who saved her life

2 October 2019        

Category: Fundraising

Kaylee Davidson-Olley, 32, from Newcastle was the first baby in the UK to have a successful heart transplant. To celebrate World Heart Day on Sunday, she paid tribute to the two women who saved her life over 30 years ago by having their names engraved forever on our glorious Heart of Steel.

Kaylee needed a lifesaving heart transplant when she was only four months old. She was diagnosed with dilated cardiomyopathy, meaning that her heart muscle couldn’t pump blood effectively around her body, and had to be on life support.

At the Freeman Hospital in Newcastle, Lynne Holt, [Recipient transplant coordinator], and Pam Yanez, [Donor Coordinator], were Kaylee’s transplant coordinators.  The two women worked together to find her a new heart and their perseverance paid off.

First UK baby heart transplant 

On 14th October 1987, Kaylee became the first baby in the UK to have a successful heart transplant. The three have shared an unbreakable bond ever since.

To show her love and appreciation for Lynne and Pam, Kaylee surprised them by having their names engraved on our Heart of Steel. On Sunday, to celebrate World Heart Day, the trio travelled to Meadowhall where the Heart lives to see it for themselves. 

Kaylee said: “I wanted to do something to show Lynne and Pam that they’re my heroes - as well as my donor family. After all, I wouldn’t be here without them. They saved my life when I was five months old and they’ve been here for me ever since. We’ve celebrated Christmas together; spend time with each other’s families: they’re like mothers to me.

“When I heard about the Heart of Steel it seemed like the most perfect tribute. Words can’t describe what Lynne and Pam mean to me but hopefully this gesture goes some way towards showing them.”

The heart of steel 

Standing at 2.4 metres high, the monumental art sculpture is crafted entirely from Yorkshire steel and has 150,000 spaces for people to engrave their name, or the name of a loved one, for a donation of £20. 

Pam, who has an OBE for her service to the transplant community, said: “I feel incredibly honoured to have my name on the Heart of Steel. Seeing it for the first time was a really emotional moment. It represents all the donors I’ve cared for who saved the lives of people like Kaylee.”

Lynne added: “Every person whose transplant operation I coordinate is special to me. But Kaylee was our first baby and you always remember your first.

“As Kaylee has grown up I’ve been involved in her every milestone, and watched her become a lovely kind and caring young woman.

“When Kaylee told me she’d had my name engraved on the Heart of Steel I was overwhelmed and emotional. We’ve come such a long way together and it was such a moving gesture.”

Devastating diagnosis 

Kaylee was born in Sunderland Hospital and appeared to be a happy and healthy baby. When she was only a few months old, she developed what doctors thought was a chest infection. However, her mum, Carol, had a feeling that it was something even more serious.

As time went on Kaylee began wheezing heavily, and one day, she started to turn blue.

Carol took her straight to Sunderland Hospital and on arrival she was transferred by ambulance to the Freeman Hospital in Newcastle. It was there that she was diagnosed with dilated cardiomyopathy, which explained Kaylee’s trouble breathing.

Camilla Shelley, our Fundraising Manager at the British Heart Foundation, said: “We’re extremely touched that Kaylee chose the Heart of Steel as the vessel to mark her love and appreciation for these two phenomenal women.

“We hope that over time the Heart of Steel will become an iconic British emblem:  honouring those living with heart disease and celebrating the phenomenal progress that has been made since the BHF was founded in 1961 and since Kaylee’s transplant 26 years later.


“So far the sculpture has raised a monumental £540,000 for the BHF. With each new engraving we’re able to fund even more vital research to improve the lives of people living with heart and circulatory diseases across the U.K.”


Find out more about the Heart of Steel