A heart transplant recipient has described how meeting the family of his donor for the first time and letting them listen to his beating heart was ‘a day that I’ll never forget’.
Tim Head (centre) and his wife Bernie, from Northamptonshire, recently met the family of his donor Kitt Blake, a Norfolk businessman who was 30-years old when he died in 2020.
Kitt was subsequently able to help four people, with Tim receiving his heart in a transplant here at Royal Papworth Hospital, the biggest adult cardiothoracic transplant centre in the country.
This first meeting, captured on film as the two families wanted to share their experiences in support of Organ Donation Week 2023, included a poignant moment when Kitt’s mother Jane and other family members were able to listen to Tim’s beating heart.
Tim was diagnosed with dilated cardiomyopathy and was ill for five years, including an eight-month hospital stay before the transplant in the spring of 2020.
He said: “It’s been a fantastic day that I’ll never forget. My first anniversary was their first anniversary and I just felt like I had to write to them to thank them. Even from day one, I had this feeling we’d meet up one day. I just knew it.
“There were a lot of emotions leading up to today. We just want them to know that we do really appreciate it every single day.
“Jane listening to my heart was very emotional and I’m glad she listened. Everyone is at ease now.”
Kitt’s mother Jane Blake said: “It meant a lot to meet Tim today. He sent us a letter about a year after the organ donation and we were really happy to know that he was so well. He said it would be lovely to meet up when the time was right and I knew I wanted to.
“To see that he’s happy, well and enjoying his life together with his family was marvellous and something that they may not otherwise have had. They’re a lovely family and deep down I think I knew they would be.”
She added, “When Kitt was in hospital and we were asked about organ donation, my heart sunk. I didn’t know what to say at first. However Kitt was someone who always helped others, so we knew it was the right thing. We had to think quickly, but I’m glad we made the right decision.”
Monika Krupa is a Recipient Transplant Coordinator at Royal Papworth Hospital:
“It was an honour to be present for this first meeting between the two families. It was an emotional experience for everyone involved and marks the next stage for Tim in his transplant story.
“In our role we’re very privileged to be part of the lives of our recipients and we become like a second family to them, supporting them closely at every step of their incredible journeys.
“We often hear that many people wish to be donors but don’t always have those conversations with families. Therefore if there’s one thing we’d like to urge, is to discuss your wishes with your loved ones.
“Talking about organ donation is so important and letting your wishes be known could mean you go on to save someone’s life in the future.”
Natalie Ashley is Specialist Nurse for Organ Donation at Norfolk and Norwich University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, which cared for Kitt and his family.
“Huge thanks to Tim for allowing this incredibly emotional moment which meant such a lot to Kitt’s family. I really believe the meeting has been of huge benefit to both families who have now definitely formed a bond for life. Such meetings don’t happen often, but when they do it is hugely powerful.
“Even though the law has changed to an opt-out system it is still just as important as ever to talk about your wishes with your family. We are so indebted to families, like Kitt’s, who selflessly supported him to donate at such a terribly difficult time.
“Thanks also to the staff at Ketteringham Hall, for all their help in setting up this meeting, and to Keiron Tovell, for his wonderful sensitive videography.
Organ donation changes lives, and more than ever we need people to confirm their decision on the NHS Organ Donor Register. One donor can save up to nine lives, and even more by also donating tissue. More than 7,000 people are currently waiting for an organ transplant in the UK, while on average around 1,400 people donate each year.
This year’s Organ Donation Week campaign is aiming to encourage at least 25,000 people to save future lives by taking two minutes to confirm their organ donation decision. It’s quick and easy. Simply visit www.organdonation.nhs.uk.