Heart-lung patient to meet transplant surgeon who saved her life 30 years ago

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A woman whose heart and lungs were replaced in a life-saving transplant operation will celebrate the 30th anniversary of her surgery by reuniting with the doctor who transformed her life.

Carol Town, 63, had hoped the operation at Papworth Hospital, Cambridgeshire, would give her four extra years of life - which "felt like a long time".

Living life to the full 30 years later is something she did not think was possible, and has allowed her to have a son and watch him grow up, build a career and enjoy new sports such as horse-riding.

Born in Upminster, Essex, in 1954 and now living in York, Mrs Town will meet her surgeon, Professor John Wallwork, now chairman of Papworth Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, at a celebratory reception at Pembroke College, Cambridge, on Thursday.

Mrs Town was diagnosed with the rare condition Eisenmenger's syndrome, which leads to irreversible lung damage, at the age of five.

At the time, there was nothing that could be done to treat the disease and most patients died before they reached 30.

Mrs Town spent her childhood in and out of hospital, suffering extreme breathlessness, heart failure and later asthma.

Her health continued to deteriorate and she was told that her only hope for survival would be the development of a technique for heart-lung transplantation.

She was referred to Papworth and while she waited 18 months for organs to become available, she was not able to travel further than two hours from there.

Mrs Town was on the way home from work when she got a message from Papworth to say suitable organs had been identified for her transplant in July 1987.

Her surgery was a success and she was discharged in time for her fourth wedding anniversary in August 1987.

The treatment gave her a new lease of life and she quickly learned to run, swim, cycle and ride horses for the first time.

In December that year she climbed her first peak, Pen-y-Ghent in the Yorkshire Dales, and she later competed in the Transplant Games.

Despite further episodes of ill health, she went on to have a son, Joss, through a surrogate, and built a career in counselling. 

Now retired, Mrs Town is able to live life to the full and still walks and swims regularly.

"The transplant gave me so much," she said. "It completely transformed my life and allowed me to do things I never thought possible, like see my son grow up and have a rewarding career.

"I'll probably never know who it was who donated their heart and lungs to me but I am so grateful to them for giving me a second chance at life."

Prof Wallwork said: "It is wonderful to see Carol celebrating the 30th anniversary of her heart-lung transplant at Papworth Hospital.

"Carol's operation took place just a few years after I performed the first successful heart-lung transplant in Europe, but since then we have carried out more than a thousand life-saving transplants here at Papworth.

"As a surgeon it is incredibly rewarding to see a former patient enjoy such a good quality of life 30 years after surgery and I wish Carol many healthy and happy years to come."

Mrs Town hopes her story will inspire more people to join the NHS Organ Donor Register.