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Life-saving surgeon’s plea for people to become donors

The surgeon who performed the life-saving operation on Cathy McCracken has called for people across Northern Ireland to sign up to the NHS Organ Donor List.

Professor Stephan Schueler, a cardiothoracic surgeon at the Freeman Hospital in Newcastle, England, said medics are having to develop other techniques and treatments to help people with heart conditions because of the shortage of donors.

“I was involved in Cathy’s case before she had her transplant and her condition was so serious that she could not leave the hospital. She would have died if she had not received treatment at the hospital, which kept her alive until a new heart was found.

“She was very sick, she was in advanced stage of heart failure with both her heart chambers failing, so she had to receive aggressive medication to support the function of the heart.”

Currently, doctors can fit a device which helps the heart function but Professor Schueler said this is generally used in the interim until a suitable organ can be found. However, he said doctors are trying to develop the device so patients do not have to rely upon a heart being donated. Dr Schueler said: “The actual transplant procedure is very complex and there are a lot of people involved. There are teams with the donor to remove the organs. The heart has to be packed in a special liquid to keep it alive before it is transported to the hospital where the recipient is.

“You have a three to four-hour window between the heart being retrieved, transplant and suturing, so everything has to be co-ordinated very well.

“Sometimes if a heart doesn’t work very well in the beginning you have to let it rest for a while, which can lengthen the procedure, but Cathy’s operation went well and I am very, very pleased with her.”

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Cathy required dialysis for about 30 hours after the transplant as her kidneys were affected by the medication to stop her body rejecting the new organ, but Professor Schueler hopes she can return to Northern Ireland within the next few weeks.

“It will be about two or three months before she really starts to feel better, but she will already start to feel better than she was before the operation.

“We need more people to go on the donor register because the longer a person has to wait for an organ, the less chance of survival.”