Longest surviving heart transplant patient in the world celebrating over 39 years of a new heart

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A heart transplant patient, who received his new heart as he turned 18 in 1984 at Harefield Hospital, has been recognised as the longest surviving heart transplant patient in the world.

Bert Janssen, a 57-year-old father of two living in the Netherlands, has been recognised by the Guinness World Records and is still living with his transplanted heart over 39 years later.

After developing flu-like symptoms in early 1984, at 17-years-old Bert began to struggle with keeping up with school and his social life as he started to experience weakness and low energy levels. He was eventually diagnosed with cardiomyopathy, a disease of the heart muscle where the walls of the heart chambers become weak, making it harder for the heart to pump blood to the rest of the body.

Bert’s cardiologist in the Netherlands, Albert Mattart, had close ties with Harefield Hospital and had agreed with Professor Sir Magdi Yacoub, now world-renowned as a pioneer in transplantation, to register Bert for a heart transplant, a procedure which at the time had not been performed in the Netherlands.

Professor Yacoub went on to carry out Bert’s transplant at Harefield on 6 June 1984.

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Bert said, “It all went very fast. Only a week after arriving at Harefield, two hearts became available from a major car accident in London. I had a match with one of these and the heart was transplanted. As Dr Mattart told me about 30 years later, it must have been the perfect match.

“My new heart very quickly allowed me to return to a good quality of life. I played tennis and volleyball; I was able to take up a full time job; and one of my proudest achievements was, along with my wife Petra and both our parents, building our own house brick by brick.

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“In 2010 one of my dreams came true and I started learning to fly. I eventually got approval to fly a glider solo, something which gave me such a feeling of freedom and joy. Nowadays I have to slow down, but I still try to go out and stay fit as best as I can.”

30 years after receiving his new heart, Bert started to experience some challenges with his health as a result of the transplant and the medication he takes to prevent rejection. He continues to see a medical team at Laurentius Hospital in the Netherlands as part of his lifelong aftercare.

Bert’s transplant at Harefield Hospital was the 107th transplant carried out at the hospital. To this day, Harefield remains a leading heart and lung transplant centre in the UK, performing 54 transplants in 2022-23.

Dr Fernando Riesgo Gil, consultant cardiologist and lead of the heart transplantation service at Harefield Hospital, said: “It is fantastic news to hear that one of our early Harefield transplant patients continues to live such a full and happy life so long after his transplant.

“Bert’s life was transformed by the precious gift of organ donation. Today in the UK there are 334 people on the waiting list for a new heart waiting to have their lives transformed. Unfortunately, many of these people will die on the waiting list because we have a shortage of organ donors in this country. I hope that Bert’s story serves as an encouragement to the public to consider registering as organ donors, to give the gift of life.”

In 1993, Bert married his wife Petra and welcomed their two sons Guido and Ivo in 1996 and 2000. Bert retired from his job working at a primary school in 2017 and now spends his time maintaining the family home and supporting’s his wife’s picture framing business.

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Reflecting on his transplant and with advice for people currently on the organ transplant waiting list for a new heart, Bert said: “All these years later, I am still grateful for the incredible gift my donor gave me and for Dr Mattart for seeking a life-saving solution and initiating the surgery.

“I could never imagine I would come this far, but nevertheless I always looked up to others who had their donor heart longer than I had. It feels like an honour to have reached this milestone, but what I think is most important is that I set a benchmark for others. It is now officially proved that it is possible to come this far while having a donor heart. I assume the marker will yet move quite a bit further and I will be pleased if others will break my record in due course.

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“Even if waiting for a heart seems hopeless and you are afraid that your heart might come too late, never give up and try and think of your life after transplant. Many happy years are waiting for you, receiving a new heart is life changing. I certainly learnt to enjoy the little things in life and to live now. Carpe diem!”

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