Ahead of World Heart Day on Sunday, September 29th, Minister of State for Care, Rt. Hon. Caroline Dinenage MP, visited the pioneering transplant unit at Harefield Hospital to meet patients and staff and hear about the unit’s ground-breaking 'artificial heart' programme and use of the Organ Care System.
Supporting a patient’s failing heart, artificial hearts, or ventricular assist devices (VADS) give patients valuable extra time on the transplant waiting list and have saved hundreds of lives. Teams at Harefield implanted 30 devices in 2018/19 making it the largest VAD programme in the UK. The Organ Care System uses state-of-the-art technology to keep donor hearts beating outside the human body, enabling donated organs to be transported from as far away as Scotland to be used to save the life of someone in Harefield, northwest London.
The Minister took a keen interest in both technologies and toured the Hospital’s newly refurbished intensive care and imaging units, before meeting pre- and post-transplant patients, who shared their experiences and discussed upcoming changes in organ donation legislation.
Commenting, she said: “It was such a privilege to meet the wonderful staff and patients at Harefield Hospital. It is 40 years since the UK’s first heart transplant, and many, including some of the brave people I met, are still waiting for the gift of life. It’s vital we make our own choice clear so it will be honoured no matter what.”
Responding to a message on social media from Harefield patient Julie Bartlett, she commented: “It was a massive pleasure to meet you! Really humbled by your bravery, your approach to life and in fact all-round awesomeness. Will follow your journey closely and do all I can to promote organ donation.”
Julie, who is waiting for a heart transplant, had praised the “marvellous” care she has received at Harefield, which she described as “an absolutely brilliant place to be.”
Patient Nick Jennings, who was recently fitted with a VAD while he waits for a transplant, echoed this: “It’s a wonderful place, so different to other larger hospitals. You get to know so many other patients but also the staff, and they follow your journey as well.
“The patients get along and socialise together and the staff know you by name.”
David Webb, who recently had a heart transplant, stressed the importance of people having open conversations with their loved ones about organ donation: “Families are often making the organ donation decision at an extremely stressful time. If the preparation is done beforehand, it makes it a lot easier.”
He added: “It was a privilege to meet the Minister and have the chance to discuss transplantation from the patient’s perspective and to be able to share my experiences was an important step to ensure that the excellent treatment I have received can continue for others.”
Commenting on the visit, medical director Dr Mark Mason said: “I think the Minister got a sense, not only of the expertise within our transplant, intensive care and imaging teams, but also of the very special atmosphere at Harefield and of the close-knit community we are proud to call our staff.
It really lifted the spirits of patients on the waiting list to be given the opportunity to talk directly to a Minister of State, about their experiences, fears and hopes. We hope to welcome her back in the not too distant future.”
You can view a short video from the Minister’s visit here.