NHS AT 70: Heart transplant gave us 16 precious years

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Heather Thomas wants to thank the NHS for giving her an extra 16 years with the father she loved.

READ MORE: ‘They gave me an extra 20 years of life’

Members of Peter Frost's family pulled on their running trainers at the Freckleton half marathon

Members of Peter Frost's family pulled on their running trainers at the Freckleton half marathon

Peter Frost had a heart transplant in 1988, one of the first patients in the North West to have access to what was then a pioneering treatment. Sadly, he died in 2004, but Heather and the rest of the family are grateful for the extra 16 years the transplant gave him, and has many happy memories of family life from this period.

READ MORE: ‘Doctors in intensive care saved my life’

And many other Preston people have cause to be grateful, as Peter was a founder of the charity Heartbeat, which has helped thousands of heart patients since its inception in 1978.

Heather, 58, said: “After the transplant he could take his five grandchildren out and play with them, so it was very much like having a new life really.”

Every time he would have a heart attack his heart would suffer and leave scars.

Peter, a carpenter who lived in Freckleton, was put on the transplant list when he was 55 years old, knowing that he didn’t have long left to live after his heart was failing from suffering five heart attacks starting from when he was just 39.

He received his new heart two years later, and the whole family felt that he had been given a new lease of life.

He began by quickly regaining his fitness, and became a founder of Heartbeat, which helps to rehabilitate heart attack survivors, to help them regain their fitness in a safe environment.

“He did a huge amount for Heartbeat in the 80s, 90s and 2000s,” said son Martin, 49.

He also put his energies in becoming a big campaigner within schools, campaigning about the effects of smoking and the effects smoking has on your heart, to encourage school children to be aware of the dangers of smoking.

Peter then went on to play a lot of badminton, eventually winning a bronze medal winner at the British Transplant Games in Glasgow in 1991.

Peter was a carpenter by trade, but he had his first heart attack aged 39 and four more attacks soon followed, leading him to an early retirement.

Heather said: “Every time he would have a heart attack his heart would suffer and leave scars.”

He saw a specialist at Blackpool Victoria, who said that his heart wasn’t strong enough for a triple bypass surgery.

“They suggested to him that he sort of go away and enjoy the rest of his life, and he said no I’m not prepared to do that,” said Heather, his middle child.

“They said there was this new pioneering transplant scheme at Wythenshawe hospital so we went there when he was 55.

“I think once he had gone through the tests and everything it was about six months he had to wait.

“He was a very loving gentleman who always wanted to do things for people,” daughter Heather remembers, adding he was a community man and very popular within the Freckleton area.

Peter died in 2004, 16 years after his successful heart transplant. He spent these 16 years enjoying his family life and helping others in similar situations.

Peter left behind a wife, Anne, 86, three children, Kevin Frost, 61, Heather Thomas, 58 and Martin Frost, 49, and he was a grandfather of five.

Heather recalled: “When he was ill he couldn’t do things for us, he was always wanting to help but he found it difficult to do anything.

“I remember before I got married in 1981 we were doing up the house and he wanted to come help but he found it difficult, and after we got married he had a heart attack.

“So it was things like that that put strain on him.

“My mum went to every appointment with him and sat by his bed on every occasion that he was in hospital.

“She was there every minute that he was there and she would help him do things around the house.”

Heather added that they had a very strong relationship, and everything that happened to her dad, happened to the whole family.

Aged 57, Peter finally got his heart transplant, but not without disappointment. While waiting for his future heart, Peter had to carry around a bleeper with him, which would bleep if a possible compatible heart was in the area, and if it did, he would have to get in touch.

“I think once he went and it wasn’t quite compatible so it went to somebody else that time, which was very stressful for him. It was stressful for us all because we were all just waiting for that call and when you get the call you think oh yes this is going to be the one and then for it to be slightly not compatible, its devastating isn’t it really.”

Luckily, the second time Peter was called out, the heart was compatible. His heart transplant surgery went well and he lived for 16 more years afterwards.

While waiting for his transplant, Peter had to sacrifice parts of his personality to his illness. He used to love playing bowles, but his health wouldn’t allow it. He also wasn’t able to play with his grandchildren.

“Dad found it very difficult because he couldn’t do what he wanted to do, he couldn’t walk very far,” Heather recalls.

But with his new heart, Peter got his life back.

Heather now is a carer for her mum, Anne, while Kevin is retired and Martin owns his own electric cable company.

Factfile

On 3rd May 1968, Britain’s first successful heart transplant was conducted at the National Heart Hospital in Marylebone, London. The lead surgeon Donald Ross told reporters at the time that; “A heart transplant operation was carried out today on a man aged 45 years. The operation was completely uneventful and the patient’s condition is entirely satisfactory.”

This was the world’s 10th heart transplant and the patient, Frederick West, died 46 days after receiving his new heart in May 1968.

Modern day organ transplants have higher success rates than this first attempt.

Heart transplant survivor, Sue Wrightson, 52, had a heart transplant on the 2nd January in 1992, aged 25.

Sue was discovered to have heart problems at five months old, as she was born with only two working heart chambers rather than four. This meant that blood wasn’t being circulated around her body properly, and she was confined to a wheelchair until her transplant,.

“I couldn’t walk to the bus stop or anything like that,” she said. After her successful transplant at the Freeman Hospital in Newcastle Upon Tyne, the doctors told her she would have until eight to 10 years left to live.

“It was better than the prognostic I had before, because I was basically dying. Transplant surgery is the last thing to keep you alive, there was no operation they could’ve done to keep me alive except a transplant.

Sue added she was very grateful for the extra time her new heart had given her.

After her heart transplant, Sue went pink, after her skin had always been blue because of her lack of circulation.

“My mum used to always say that as soon as she saw me when I was still in the intensive care unit, immediately my lips had gone pink. They’d gone to normal colour because I had normal circulation from when they put the new heart in,” Sue remembers.

After her transplant, she became an archer. Sue is the gold medal holder in archery which she won at the British Transplant Games in Lanarkshire in 2017. She also became a gold medal winner in table tennis and silver medallist in tenpin bowling at the European Transplant Games in Finland in 2016. It has been 26 years since Sue’s heart transplant, which has exceeded her life expectancy almost by triple amounts.