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Scottish cousins reveal how heart donors saved both their lives at just 45

Two Scottish cousins who both received heart transplants at the same age in their mid-40s have spoken of the new lease of life their procedures have given them.

Fraser Wilson, from Glasgow, and Louise Campbell, from Wishaw, were both 45 when they underwent life-saving surgery at the Golden Jubilee University National Hospital in Clydebank.

The pair both had the genetic disease cardiomyopathy and had lost parents and uncles to it prior to their operations.

Mr Wilson, 46, an area director for a bank in Glasgow, was diagnosed with dilated cardiomyopathy when he was just 14 and believed he would die a young man because of his early diagnosis.

He was further diagnosed with heart failure five years ago and had a defibrillator fitted but his health deteriorated last January.

Speaking about the benefits of his surgery, Mr Wilson explained: “It’s phenomenal having this new heart, it’s hard to describe. I just feel like everything has been sorted in me, like a 30-year weight has been lifted off my shoulders.

“Because I was diagnosed so young I always just assumed I was going to die young, but now I genuinely have a new lease of life, it’s amazing.

“I always thought positively of organ donation and wanted to be an organ donor, but wasn’t sure if my organs would be particularly useful.

“But going through this process I obviously have a much better appreciation of all organ donation now.

Ms Campbell, 47, also had a defibrillator fitted when she was just 18 and underwent her transplant at the same age as Mr Wilson albeit a few years before him.

Since the procedure, she has quit her former role with the housing department of a local authority and has started studying for a role in social work.

She has also gone on to appear as a contestant on the television gameshow Countdown, which she used to regularly watch in hospital while recovering from her surgery.

She said: “We as a family spoke a lot about organ donation. One of my mum’s cousins donated his organs after he passed away and that brought them, as a family, comfort.

“As a recipient I have a huge appreciation for my heart that someone has decided to give me. It’s more than donating an organ, it’s giving someone their life back, it’s a whole life that impacts your family and friends, it gives people a future.

“Whoever my donor is hasn’t just given me new life, it’s changed my child’s life as well, but I know this came from a loss from another family so it’s hard to deal with sometimes, but all you can do is live your life for them and make it meaningful.”

The cousins told their stories to mark Organ and Tissue Donation Week, which aims to raise awareness of the importance of making a decision to donate known on the Organ Donation Register, as well as pay tribute to organ donors and families who have given the gift of life to others.

At the same time, the team at NHS Golden Jubilee’s Scottish National Advanced Heart Failure Service (SNAHFS) is celebrating completing 500 transplants over the past 30 years, with a record 40 procedures successfully carried out in the past 12 months.

Transplant surgeon Phil Curry said: “It’s been a great achievement to reach this significant milestone in heart transplantation in Scotland since it began 31 years ago, and a record number last year.

“There are numerous factors which have led to that over the last three years. Initially we thought the recent rise in Scottish transplants was due to our service being uninterrupted during the Covid-19 pandemic and we were able to do more, but since then the numbers have sustained over the last two years.

“So that leads us to believe it is a combination of new technologies and innovations we’ve introduced here at NHS Golden Jubilee.

“One major factor is the Organ Care System (Heart in a Box), which extends the amount of time a donated organ can remain outside the body in a condition suitable for transplantation for Donation after Circulatory Death (DCD) hearts, which now account for a large percentage of our transplant activity that we didn’t have five years ago.

“Also registration for organ donation has been higher in Scotland over the last few years following the opt-out change in the law in 2020, which has definitely helped us to increase our numbers.”

For more information on Organ Donation Week and information on how to register a decision to donate visit www.organdonation.nhs.uk.