Friday 19 January 2018

Patients recall 25 years of heart transplant miracles

Kevin Keane

THEY were both just 19 when they underwent life-saving heart surgery.

And Ireland's longest-surviving and one of the most recent heart transplant patients now enjoy happy and healthy lives.

A total of 275 people have undergone heart transplants in Ireland in the years between Andy Kavanagh (44) and Aoife Farrell's (21) operations.

Yesterday a large number of these survivors commemorated the 25th anniversary of the first Irish heart transplant operation at a ceremony at Dublin's Royal College of Surgeons.

Mr Kavanagh was the sixth person in the country to undergo the operation and describes the experience as "very frightening".

He has formed a close relationship with the mother of David Russell, the teenager whose heart he was given.

"He [David] was knocked down by a drunk driver on his way home from a disco, both he and his friend were killed, they were both only 19 at the time," Mr Kavanagh said.

"Only for the courageous decision of David's mother Jean Russell, this would never have happened."

The Dubliner was told at the time of his operation in 1986 that his new heart would give him another one to two years of life.

"When you are very sick and someone offers you another year, you'll take that, but as it goes on you want another year and another year and I'm still here," he said.

"I'm living testimony, I've lived a full life, I've married and I have a daughter who's 21. I've seen her develop and grow in to a lovely young lady."


One of the surgeons who operated on Mr Kavanagh described how gratifying it was to see his former patient doing so well.

One year before that operation, Prof Freddie Wood carried out the first ever heart transplant in Ireland.

He worked alongside the recently deceased Dr Maurice Nelligan on the breakthrough surgery on September 1, 1985.

"It was a risky procedure, you would expect one in five people to die from it but the patients picked had terminal heart failure so there was no other treatment for them," he said.

In 1993, Prof Wood operated on the youngest ever patient in Ireland, Paddy Barry, who was just 11 years old. "He's still alive and he had a baby daughter during the summer with his wife," Prof Wood said.

Aoife Farrell, from Bray in Co Wicklow, is one of the country's most recent heart-transplant recipients. She received her new heart a few weeks before her 20th birthday last year.

"I was born with heart disease that we didn't detect until I was 17 and had a mild heart attack one morning. About a year and a half after that I had a stroke as well. That led to heart failure and I ended up having a transplant."

Ms Farrell was in hospital for just two weeks following her operation and is now back in college, goes to the gym regularly and is able to go out with her friends.

She's studying social studies in Bray, Co Wicklow, and wants to have a career in the health service. "Loads of people helped me, I'd like to help them," she said.

Irish Independent

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