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7 September 2017

Organ Donation Week 2017: 'I think about my donor every day'

David and Helen Markillie have been married for 30 years. They have a home, children and a close network of friends. They also each have a new heart

The couple are among the 2,528 people who have undergone life-saving transplant surgery at Cambridge’s Papworth Hospital – and, unusually for a husband and wife, know exactly what each other has been through.

Helen, 62, who lives with David in Ipswich, was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy, a disease of the heart muscle, and underwent a heart transplant in 2007 – which meant she was in the ideal position to support her husband when he went through the experience in June 2015.

“I was told I had atrial fibrillation about 20 years ago,” said David, 60. “They tried to regulate the heart beat and after a number of scans they found I had an enlarged heart. I was referred to Papworth because the blood wasn’t being pumped around my body properly, and I was put on the elective waiting list for a heart transplant. At the time I couldn’t walk further than 30-40 metres without having to stop and recover.

“The fact we’d already been through it with my wife made it easier at the start. However hers went well and she was out in a couple of weeks, with me – because of complications - it took three months. I had to learn to walk again but it was a small price to pay.”

Hotel worker David – a keen gardener and photographer - said people are surprised when they find out both he and Helen have donor hearts.

“People tell us they’ve never met one person who’s had a heart transplant, let alone two people. I tell them, ‘well, people don’t usually go around advertising it!’ In fact, there’s someone around the corner from where we live who’s had a heart and double lung transplant – also at Papworth.”

David urged people to support Organ Donation Week 2017 (September 4-10), make sure they are on the NHS Organ Donor Register and make sure their family knows about their wishes.

“For us the donation meant that we’re both still here, that our children still have parents. It is very unusual for us both to have been through it – we sometimes have a little joke about it, but of course it’s a serious issue and I think about my donor and their family every day.”

Mr Pedro Catarino, Consultant Cardiothoracic and Transplant Surgeon at Papworth Hospital, said: “This is a great transplant story. We are certainly in the business of bringing hearts together.

“What I would like to emphasise is what a great and normal quality of life David and Helen have. Their donor hearts work like normal hearts. It is a really special legacy for a donor’s heart to go on beating and giving the gift of life to someone else.”


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