8 January 2024

The pioneering liver surgeon Professor Sir Roy Calne has died at the age of 93.

In December 1986, Sir Roy and Professor John Wallwork collaborated to perform the world’s first heart-lung and liver transplant here at Royal Papworth Hospital.


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Professor John Wallwork (left) collaborated with Sir Roy (right) on the world-first at Royal Papworth Hospital


The patient, 35 year-old Davina Thompson, lived for nearly 12 years after the landmark surgery.

“I can’t remember precisely when or where the conversation with Roy and I started, but it soon become clear that Davina needed our help and our two hospitals could collaborate together to do something special,” Professor Wallwork recalled.

“It was just before Christmas and Roy brought his team over to Papworth. We had two full teams in theatre – our cardiothoracic team and the liver team from Addenbrooke’s – working through the night to perform the operation.

“We took out the liver first, then the heart and lungs, then put in the donated heart and lungs and finally the new liver.

“After the successful surgery, we all celebrated with some breakfast down in the restaurant beside our old theatres.”


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Davina Thompson was the first patient to benefit from this pioneering surgery


Almost a decade before, in 1978, following the discovery by David White, Sir Roy became the first doctor to use the immunosuppressant cyclosporin which was found to be effective in reducing organ rejection.

“Roy’s work on cyclosporin made lung transplantation possible. We were able to perform heart transplants without it, but lungs were trickier. There was no way we could transplant lungs without an effective immunosuppressant.

“The discovery and use of cyclosporin made transplantation possible as a treatment to more and more people. Nearly 50 years on, it is still what is used for today’s transplant patients.

“Roy was a giant in the transplant world and an innovative surgeon. On behalf of Royal Papworth Hospital my thoughts and best wishes are with the Calne family.”


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Professor Sir Roy Calne has died at the age of 93

(Photo credit: The Calne family)