8 February 2024

This Heart Month, Heart Research UK and Royal Papworth Hospital NHS Foundation Trust are celebrating 45 years since the UK's first successful heart transplant surgery, which revolutionised heart transplantation in the country.

The operation was performed by Sir Terence English at Royal Papworth Hospital in August 1979 on 52-year-old Keith Castle, who went on to survive over five years post-transplant.



Keith Castle had the UK's first successful heart transplant surgery


The first attempts at heart transplantation were in the UK in 1968. Sadly, whilst the transplants themselves were completed; the first three patients died within weeks due to organ rejection.

After the survival rate did not improve, a moratorium of 1973 acted as an effective ban on heart transplantation surgeries in the UK.

In January 1979, Sir Terence began a heart transplant programme at Royal Papworth Hospital. Unfortunately, the patient from his first attempt survived just a few weeks after the operation.


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Sir Terence English in surgery


Heart Research UK funding helps pave the way

It was because of the success of the second surgery on Mr Castle in August 1979 that Sir Terence was then able to secure funding from Heart Research UK, paving the way for heart transplantation to become what it is today.

Formerly known as The National Heart Research Fund, Heart Research UK funded the following six heart transplant surgeries at what was then called Papworth Hospital.

After Sir Terence English had performed two consecutive successful transplants, this provided sufficient evidence to the central regulatory and funding bodies to allow for a full-scale transplant programme at Royal Papworth Hospital in Cambridge.

Since the first transplant in 1968, there have been approximately 9,000 heart transplants in the UK.


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Gilbert underwent his heart transplant at Royal Papworth Hospital in 2016


Gilbert's story

Gilbert, 65, was one of these patients who underwent his heart transplant in 2016 at Royal Papworth Hospital after suffering from hypertrophic cardiomyopathy.

Gilbert from Salisbury explained: “I have had a very long and tireless journey dealing with all that comes with having a heart condition.

"I realised I could no longer do half of what I used to do without getting out of breath, feeling tired and lacking energy.

“My heart had deteriorated so badly that without the operation, my life would have ended without my heart transplant.

"A big point of transplantation is about getting the public to sign up for the organ donation register, as without this I may not have got my transplant. Whilst it is tragic to lose a life, there is a benefit of helping to save a life by registering for organ donation, especially in young people who still have a life to live.

“I am so thankful for all the research and studies that have helped people like me to live a bit longer, so I can see my family grow and meet my grandchildren.”

You can read more about Gilbert's story here.


The legacy continues...

Heart Research UK and Royal Papworth Hospital continues this legacy by hosting an annual surgical masterclass for health professionals to learn new skills and knowledge from leading experts in heart and lung transplantation. This helps to benefit more patients across the UK.

Marius Berman, Cardiothoracic and Transplant Surgeon at Royal Papworth Hospital and Course Director of the Masterclass in Cardiothoracic Organ Retrieval, Transplantation and Mechanical Circulatory Support, said: 

“We are extremely grateful to Heart Research UK for all their support of our hospital and heart transplantation over the past 45 years.

“Through our collaboration since 1979, we have been able to offer better treatment and care to heart transplant patients across the UK. By working together, we are excited about what we can achieve in the next 45 years.”


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Marius Berman


Heart Research UK has also funded a Translational Research Project (TRP) Grant towards research at Royal Papworth Hospital, exploring the effectiveness of fluids for the preservation of donor hearts. This will continue to support the development of pioneering heart transplant surgery.

Kate Bratt-Farrar, Chief Executive at Heart Research UK, said: “This is such a significant milestone for heart transplant surgery and is a massive achievement. We are delighted to work with  Royal Papworth Hospital to continue to help the development of heart transplant surgery.

“It is because of the generosity of organ donors and their families who have transformed so many lives. We understand and support individual decisions when deciding to take part in organ donation.

“We are also grateful to our incredible supporters. It is thanks to their generous donations that we were able to fund this surgery nearly 45 years ago, which has saved so many lives.”