‘So proud’: Paul and Elizabeth Clark with 16-year-old daughter, Hannah, who had her piggy-back, second heart removed.
For more than a decade, Hannah Clark had two hearts beating as one.
She was given a lifesaving transplant operation at the age of two when her own enlarged heart began to fail.
But remarkably, surgeons left it in place alongside the new one in the hope that it would recover on its own. The gamble paid off. Ten years later, Hannah’s heart was back to full strength and the donor organ could be safely removed. Today, the 16-year-old has made a full recovery. Freed from daily transplant drugs, regular hospital trips and the risk of life-threatening infections, she has begun a new lease of life. ‘The message from this is never give up,’ she said. The piggy-back transplant is thought to be the only operation of its kind in Britain – and perhaps even the world. It was carried out by surgeons advised by pioneering heart specialist Professor Sir Magdi Yacoub. Hannah had been diagnosed with cardiomyopathy, a disease which affects one child in 100,000. Her heart muscles were so stretched that part of the organ was double its normal size and struggling to pump blood.
Doctors grafted the new heart – which had belonged to a five-month-old girl – on to Hannah’s heart. The transplanted organ took over most of the work of the left side of Hannah’s heart, allowing her natural heart to rest. Although the 1995 operation was a success, Hannah had to take a daily batch of 17 drugs to suppress her immune system. She was vulnerable to infections and diseases and spent months every year in hospital. After ten years, Hannah started to suffer serious side-effects from the drugs – and began to develop a type of cancer linked to organ transplants. At one point, a nurse told her parents Paul and Liz she could have only 12 hours to live. The only way to halt the cancer was to remove the donor heart. Sir Magdi, who carried out the original transplant, came out of retirement to supervise the ‘reverse transplant’ at Great Ormond Street Hospital in London in 2006. ‘It’s changed everything,’ said Hannah, from Mountain Ash, South Wales. ‘I couldn’t go out before because my chest was so bad and when I did, my mother and father used to follow me because they were worried.’ For the first time, Hannah can live a normal life and says she enjoys running, swimming and shopping. She has just finished her GCSEs and plans to study child care.She also has a part-time job working in kennels near her home and no longer has to worry about taking anti- rejection drugs. Hannah admits that it felt strange at first with only one heart. ‘I felt empty,’ she said. ‘I could actually feel that something was missing in my chest. But I was so happy.’ Her 45-year-old father said: ‘I thank the surgeons for giving back my daughter.’ And her mother added: ‘We’re just proud. She doesn’t think about tomorrow – she just thinks about today. She gets up every morning smiling.’ Sir Magdi, who has published details about the operation in the Lancet, said: ‘After the operation she went from a very sick child to a child who is getting better and better until she was near normal. ‘Now we are a lot more confident with this programme.
‘Apart from the medical and scientific lessons, we have learned never to give up.’ news from dailymail.co.uk
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