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Guinness World Record for heart-lung transplant man who defied the odds

Published 20/07/2015

Andrew Whitby has been named the longest surviving heart-lung transplant recipient by Guinness World Records (Royal Brompton & Harefield NHS Foundation Trust/PA)
Andrew Whitby has been named the longest surviving heart-lung transplant recipient by Guinness World Records (Royal Brompton & Harefield NHS Foundation Trust/PA)

A man who was not expected to live past childhood after being born with a hole in his heart has been named the longest surviving heart-lung transplant recipient by Guinness World Records.

After celebrating the 30th anniversary of his transplant, Andrew Whitby, 51, from Teddington, south-west London, has now received the certificate confirming his world record, making him the first person in history to hold the title.

He said that without his heart-lung transplant he would not be alive today, and urged more people to sign the Organ Donor Register.

Heart-lung transplants are rarely carried out, they place a major strain on the body and only around six are performed in the UK each year.

This is because there are very few suitable donor organs available and priority is generally given to people who only need a heart transplant.

Mr Whitby became only the ninth person to ever have the procedure in the UK when he had the transplant at Harefield Hospital in north-west London in February 1985.

He was born with a congenital heart condition, commonly referred to as a hole in the heart, which meant his heart had to work much harder than normal to pump oxygenated blood around his body.

When he was diagnosed at six months, his parents were told his defect was inoperable and that he was unlikely to live for more than a few years.

But he surpassed his doctors' expectations and, against the odds, lived a relatively normal life growing up.

When he reached 20 his health quickly began to deteriorate and he developed pleurisy, inflammation of the sheet-like layers (the pleura) that cover the lungs.

Doctors thought his heart defect may have put more pressure on his lungs, contributing to the condition.

In December 1984 one of his lungs collapsed and he was referred to Harefield Hospital where his suitability for a heart-lung transplant was assessed.

He underwent the operation two months later under the care of pioneering transplant surgeon Professor Sir Magdi Yacoub, who carried out the UK's first combined heart and lung transplant at Harefield in 1983.

Retail worker Mr Whitby said: "Looking back now, it is remarkable to think that I was one of the first people to have a heart-lung transplant. At the time I was told I had a 70% chance of living for five years. I'm very lucky when you consider the people who had the same procedure before me are no longer alive. Now I feel that every day I live is a bonus.

"Now I'm generally in good health. I think being active has helped me to stay healthy - I like walking and swimming and during the summer I walk the 2.5 miles to work and back."

Mr Whitby, a divorcee, said he was reminded of the value of organ donation when his nephew died suddenly nine years ago, three weeks before his 18th birthday.

Aware of his uncle's transplant, he had signed the Organ Donor Register and following his death some of his organs were donated to patients waiting for life-saving transplants.

Mr Whitby added: "His death was a tragedy but knowing he helped other people to live provided comfort. It made me feel even more grateful to my donor.

"It's very exciting to have a Guinness World Record and I want to use it to boost awareness of how life-changing transplantation really is.

"My heart-lung transplant has improved and extended my life beyond measure. We need more people to sign the Organ Donor Register - without donors, where would that leave people like me?"

Andre Simon, director of transplantation at Harefield Hospital, said: "Andrew's world record shows how a person's life can be completely transformed through the gift of organ donation.

"For hundreds of patients every year in the UK, heart and lung transplantation is the only treatment that can offer them a future. His achievement should inspire other patients who have received donated organs, as well as those still waiting for a life-saving transplant.

"We are proud of the fact that Harefield Hospital has the best long-term survival rates in the UK for patients who have had a heart or lung transplant. Andrew is living proof that ongoing specialist care and a healthy lifestyle can mean patients can enjoy a good quality of life after transplant."

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