1 April 2021

Lifesaving heart and lung transplants have continued at Royal Papworth Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, despite the pressures of the global pandemic.

There were 56 transplants performed at the hospital in 2020/21, with 37 heart and 19 lung transplants. That’s more than one transplant every week between April 2020 and March 2021 and represents 70% of the total from the year before.

“It’s been an incredibly challenging year for everyone in the hospital, including all of us in the transplant unit”, said Dr Stephen Pettit, Consultant Cardiologist and Clinical Lead for Transplant. 

“Despite the pressures on intensive care and the fact people who die of coronavirus cannot donate their organs, plus with staff being redeployed, we have managed to continue performing transplants, alongside supporting our patients who have had transplants already and those on the waiting list.

Simon Panton, 46, in his first post-transplant clinic with Dr Clive Lewis

“I'd like to thank the hard work of all of our transplant nursing staff: the transplant coordinators; donor care physiologists; our surgeons and physicians; and all our colleagues in intensive care. 

“In addition to treating people from across the East of England with coronavirus, our staff have gone to great lengths to make sure that people can safely access other services. 

“Every day across the UK, someone dies waiting for a transplant because of a shortage of organ donors and so we are absolutely committed to ensuring every time we get a heart or lungs offered to someone on our waiting list, we will make the transplant happen. 

“It’s therefore important for us to acknowledge and to thank all of those who had the courage to have that difficult conversation with their loved ones to choose to be an organ donor, and for the courage of the families in allowing that that final wish to be met.”

In addition, Royal Papworth Hospital also collaborated with Great Ormond Street Hospital in London to roll out a world-first paediatric heart transplant programme, which saved the lives of six children in 2020.

One of the 37 adults to have a heart transplant at Royal Papworth Hospital was Simon Panton, 46, from Sleaford in Lincolnshire, who had a condition called cardiac sarcoidosis which affects the hearts rhythm and function.   

“I spent about 15 weeks in hospital during winter both before and after my transplant and felt completely safe throughout. The only down side was watching England in the cricket on TV.

“I’ve been home a couple of weeks now and was not expecting to be feeling this good this soon. I’m already the fittest I’ve been in the past three years.

“I will be forever indebted to my donor for allowing me this chance at a new life with my wife and two sons.”

Simon with wife Clare, on his first check-up after being discharged post-transplant

Pradeep Kaul, Consultant Transplant Surgeon at Royal Papworth Hospital, added: “Our heart transplant numbers are actually very similar to a normal year, but because of the nature of coronavirus and how it affects the lungs, it’s lung transplantation where the impact is felt more strongly. 

“Some patients have been worried about coming to hospital and therefore stay away or take themselves off the list, but we would reassure people that the pathways for patient care set up at Royal Papworth Hospital has resulted in no hospital acquired COVID infections in our transplant recipients. We will keep striving hard to keep our patients safe. 

“The fact that we transplanted our most sick patients on the lung transplant waiting list, successfully, in the middle of a respiratory pandemic is a huge testament to the efforts of the transplant team throughout this challenging period.” 

Mr Pradeep Kaul speaking to BBC Look East

John Forsythe, Medical Director for Organ Donation and Transplantation at NHS Blood and Transplant, says: “With a great team effort across the NHS, deceased organ donation and transplant activity continued for the most urgent patients during the first wave of COVID-19 and returned to pre-COVID levels in the summer, with all transplant centres reopening.

“The first wave of the pandemic had an immediate impact on all forms of donation and transplantation. However, even at the peak of the pandemic, we managed to keep some donation and transplant activity going for the most urgent patients. Following the uncertainty of the third wave of the pandemic, and the reduction in transplant activity once again, all transplant units are open and treating as many patients as possible.”

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