Transplant patient comes face to face with his old heart

Dr Sonya Babu-Narayan showing patient Keith his old heart
Kieran Sandwell comes face to
face with his old heart

A patient who donated his old heart for research following a transplant returned to see how it has helped doctors learn more about congenital heart disease (CHD). 

Kieran Sandwell was born with transposition of the great arteries, a condition where the pulmonary artery – which takes blood to the lungs, and the aorta – which takes blood to the rest of the body, are the wrong way round.

By the time he was 35 Kieran developed severe heart failure, and in 2009 he had a transplant at Harefield Hospital, insisting his heart was donated for medical research.

Seven years later, Kieran visited Royal Brompton to see his old heart. He said: “I was amazed at the size of it. Hearts are normally the size of a fist, but it looked like two fists. The right ventricle had severely dilated where the muscle wasn’t working. 

“I thought I’d be calm but when they brought it out I froze. It was a very strange experience.”

The heart was used by consultant cardiologist Dr Sonya Babu-Narayan for her research, funded by the British Heart Foundation, investigating whether a risk of sudden heart failure can be predicted in adults with CHD. She said: “My research tries to reduce early deaths by improving investigations and treatments for abnormal heart rhythms.

“Kieran’s heart has been crucial and has helped validate some of my findings. We were able to confirm that the MRI he had before his transplant had identified scars in his heart, caused by previous surgery. My research explored whether this scarring can be used to decide if patients are at risk and how best to treat them.

Thanks to Kieran's help, we are confident we can use imaging to assess the scarring. This will now be part of the care of adult patients with congenital heart disease, so Kieran's heart has made a real difference to diagnosis and treatment of the condition. 

Kieran added, “Thinking about all the research that has been done, and how that is going to improve the outcomes for patients who are born with heart conditions, is amazing.”

In the 1950s, only about 20 percent of babies with a serious congenital heart defect survived their first year, while today around 90 percent live to adulthood, many leading relatively normal lives. Research like Dr Babu-Narayan’s means their prognosis continues to improve every year.

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