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Medical first gave me chance to live

PUBLISHED: 09:11 23 June 2006 | UPDATED: 17:50 26 May 2020

Health correspondent MARK NICHOLLS talks to the Norfolk man who became the first person in the UK to receive a 'beating heart' in a new procedure. Pictures by IAN BURT.

Health correspondent MARK NICHOLLS talks to the Norfolk man who became the first person in the UK to receive a 'beating heart' in a new procedure. Pictures by IAN BURT.

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A Norfolk man spoke of his joy last night at his new lease of life after becoming the first person in the UK to receive a new “beating heart” during a revolutionary transplant operation.

Michael Burt is back home and enjoying his garden again just weeks after receiving a heart from a donor that was kept beating mechanically by machinery that has been designed to keep organs in a functioning state while outside the body.

The implications from the success of Mr Burt's operation are immense - opening the possibility for donor organs to be more easily transported over greater distances and for longer timespans.

Mr Burt volunteered to be part of the trial for the new equipment.

Speaking to the EDP, he said: “I am so grateful to the surgeons and the team at Papworth , they are brilliant, I cannot praise them enough.

“Why I went for the trial is that if I could do anything that helps other people, even if I died doing the trial, then so be it.

“It did not take me any time to adjust to the fact that I had someone else's heart inside me.”

Mr Burt knows if he had not taken the heart he would be dead within a year, having been diagnosed with terminal heart failure.

He was breathless, unable to walk any distance, slept for long periods and was constantly cold.

But now he said: “I feel brilliant. I plan to enjoy life and get on with my life. I have got three brilliant grandchildren, four children, I have had the support of all my family and I am so grateful to the team at Papworth for what they have done for me.

“I am grateful to the donor family and wish them all the best and hope that they can come to terms with their sad loss. I am so grateful I have got the heart but I also know it means someone else has been bereaved.”

The call to head to Papworth came out of the blue for Mr Burt, who lives with his wife Joy in Church Walk, Burnham Market.

He had only been given the transplant bleeper a week before he received the call late afternoon on May 22 while his wife was shopping.

“I was sitting in the car asleep while Joy was shopping in the supermarket at Fakenham when the bleeper went off. I wondered if it had really gone off or whether I had dreamt it and then I saw it had lit up.”

Mr Burt phoned Papworth to respond to the call and then made his way into the supermarket shouting for his wife.

“We left the shopping and headed home,” he said.

Soon after, they were collected by a car to make the 100-mile dash to Papworth near Cambridge.

Hours later, he was being prepared for the major surgery by a team at Papworth led by Professor Bruce Rosengard.

Once given the transplant bleeper, Mr Burt was on the list, which meant was that he was eligible to volunteer to be part of trials such as for the new TransMedics' Organ Care System.

As he was being prepared for the op Mr Burt, 58, said: “I must admit I was a little apprehensive, though it is the only time I have been worried about going into Papworth.

“But I was nervous and thankful at the same time.

“But I never had negative thoughts, I always knew that I would get better. I was so pleased when the bleeper went off. Without the transplant I would not have lived beyond six months, now I hope to live for another 20-30 years.”

When he came round after the surgery, Mr Burt said he felt immediately well and that he was hungry, which was significant as he had ate little in the previous two years.

It brought hope of a new life to Mr Burt, who was recovering from cancer of the spleen when it emerged that he had serious heart problems.

The transplant operation was completed in the early hours of May 23 and Mr Burt came out of hospital on June 14.

“The first thing I did when I got home was to take a stroll around my garden, to have a look at my domain and enjoy being back in the countryside.”

He will need to return to Papworth for checks up fortnightly for the immediate future.

A builder by profession, he last worked in November 2003. He is taking less medication than before but is now on powerful anti-rejection drugs. Mr Burt plans to resume playing bowls and possibly even badminton and tennis when he is fitter.

Mrs Burt is delighted with her husband's progress.

“There were quite a few times that I thought that I was going to lose him,” she said. “Before the operation he was awake for only 2-3 hours a day, he spent a lot of time asleep. He also wore several layers of clothes to keep warm. But it is brilliant to have him at home like this, there were times that I did not think he would survive the operation because he was so poorly before then.

“But hopefully after this surgeons will be able to do many more heart transplants.”

The couple have been married for five years but been together for 16.

They have four children, Catherine, Matthew, Ian and Gemma and grandchildren Chloe and Owen who are 18 months and two-month-old Freddie.

The success of the operation is a significant step in demonstrating the new organ conservation system, which may mean hearts and other organs that were previously less suitable for transplant can be “revived”, and successfully used in the life-saving surgery.

Normally, donor hearts lie dormant in cold fluid for 4-6 hours before being given to recipients. But the new system means the hearts lie inactive for shorter periods - a move which looks set to give a better chance of saving lives.

The European trials for the system are being carried out in the UK at Harefield Hospital in Middlesex and Papworth - the centre where people from Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire also have other major cardiac operations such as bypass surgery - and at units centres at Berlin and Bad-Oeynhausen in Germany.

A further trial planned for North America has yet to start.

The trial is intended to do transplants on 20 patients in the four centres.

Three have been carried out so far with the Papworth op the first in the UK.

Prof Rosengard, the Principal Investigator for the trial in the UK, said Mr Burt's heart was removed from the donor at another hospital in the region, placed into the Organ Care System, revived to a beating state, perfused with oxygen and nutrient-rich blood (also taken from the donor) and maintained at the appropriate temperature as it was taken to Papworth and sewn into the recipient.

Surgeons are excited by the possibilities the equipment offers by helping revive poorer donor hearts and allowing them to be transported over greater distances.

Prof Rosengard said: “The implications are manifold. More research and development needs to be done but what this will mean is that we can double, possibly triple or potentially quadruple the total number of transplants we can do a year.”

He explained the May 22 operation took around four hours and was no different from any other transplant from the recipient's point of view.

“What was different here is that when we stopped the heart at the donor hospital and removed it from the donor we immediately linked it up to the device, which profused it with warm oxygenated blood, which is also removed from the donor.

“When you do that the heart starts beating immediately. Rather than it being in a state of suspended animation it is transported in a state of normal blood supply. Not only is it not deteriorating is it actually getting better.”

See www.EDP24.co.uk for a video of Mr Burt on the road to recovery.


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