Medical Reading

Transplants save lives, on both sides of the Channel

August 09, 2017

Hundreds of NHS (UK) patients have had their lives saved or dramatically improved thanks to the kindness of people throughout Europe allowing donated organs to be used for transplants in other countries.

A worldwide shortage of organs led to arrangements ensuring that donated organs for transplantation are not wasted, but shared across European boundaries if a suitable recipient cannot be found in the home country.

Since the scheme started in 1972, 656 UK patients have had their lives saved or enhanced by organs donated elsewhere in Europe and 412 people in Europe received transplants thanks to organs gifted by UK donors.

A special ceremony at Athens Cathedral on 18 September will honour the generosity of all organ donors and their families as part of the European Day of Organ Donation and Transplantation.

Six year-old Joshua Dawson is one little boy whose life was transformed by a heart transplant at Great Ormond Street Hospital using a donated heart from Europe.

Joshua was born with a condition where the main arteries taking blood between the heart and lungs were the wrong way round. Within hours of his birth he had the first of two operations to try and correct the problem.

"Josh was OK for about a year," says mum Tanya Hart, 37. "But he was always very pale and a bit weaker than other babies, needing regular medication and check-ups. He slowly deteriorated until a few months before his second birthday when I was told he needed a transplant.

"Although Josh didn't seem desperately ill I knew that he would die without the operation. I had every confidence in our medical team and just wanted Josh to have a fighting chance of a normal life."

In June 2001 the call came that a suitable donated heart had been found. Tanya and Josh rushed to London for the operation. "It made no difference that the donated heart came from abroad - it was my main hope for saving Josh," recalls Tanya.

"I find it hard to describe how grateful I am to the donor family. Somewhere in Europe a child died and a bereaved family agreed to allow organ donation. I owe them my son's life.

"National boundaries do not matter when it comes to saving lives. Seeing Josh now, going to school and playing with other kids, makes me realise how lucky we are. He's so full of beans you wouldn't know he's had a heart transplant."

Donated organs, including heart, lungs, kidneys, pancreas and liver, are matched by blood group and physical size - kidneys are also matched by tissue type. These organs only survive a limited amount of time outside the body. Normally a donated heart needs to be transplanted within six hours, kidneys within 48 hours and a liver within 18 hours.

"There is a serious shortage of donated organs throughout the UK and the rest of Europe," says Health Minister Rosie Winterton. "Co-operation between neighbouring states is vital to make best use of what are precious, life-saving resources - donated organs for transplant."

Chris Rudge, Medical Director of NHS UK Transplant, the special health authority responsible for matching and allocating donated organs, says: "In the UK alone nearly 6,000 people are currently registered for a transplant.

"Last year a record 2,867 transplants took place in the UK but 443 people died while waiting.

"People who join the NHS Organ Donor Register are recording a willingness to help someone else live after their own death. Everyone can help save or transform lives by signing up to the Register and letting their family know of their wishes."

To join the NHS Organ Donor Register, telephone the Organ Donor Line: 0845 60 60 400 or log onto the NHS UK Transplant website: uktransplant .

For more information contact UK Transplant press office: 0117 975 7470 or 0117 975 7475.

NOTES FOR EDITORS

-- NHS UK Transplant is responsible for managing the National Transplant Database, which includes details of all donors and patients who are waiting for, or who have received a transplant.

-- Eurotransplant is the organisation responsible for organ donation procedures in Austria, Belgium, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Slovenia. Skandiatransplant is a similar organisation including Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden.

-- Collaborative arrangements exist between the UK, Eurotransplant, Skandiatransplant, France, Spain, Portugal, Greece, Italy, Switzerland and Hungary.

Extract of main figures since 1972:

-- 326 UK transplants have used organs donated from Eurotransplant member states.

-- 289 transplants in Eurotransplant member states have used organs donated in the UK.

-- 170 UK transplants have used organs donated in France.

-- 52 transplants in France have used organs donated in the UK.

-- 29 UK transplants have used organs donated from Skandiatransplant member states.

-- 24 transplants in Skandiatransplant member states have used organs donated in the UK.

Anyone can join the NHS Organ Donor Register by telephoning the Organ Donor Line on 0845 60 60 400 or by visiting uktransplant .