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Reunited after 30 years: The Papworth Hospital patient and 'recycling' surgeon

(L-R)Carol Town pictured with Professor John Wallwork who performed her lung transplant 30 years ago. Pic - Richard Marsham
(L-R)Carol Town pictured with Professor John Wallwork who performed her lung transplant 30 years ago. Pic - Richard Marsham

Heart-lung transplant patient makes appeal for people to join donor list thirty years after her operation.

Thirty years after Carol Town underwent the 28th heart and lung transplant to take place at Papworth Hospital, she was reunited with the surgeon who performed the operation.

The occasion was celebrated at Pembroke College, Cambridge, where Prof John Wallwork praised Carol, who he said is a tribute to the health service.

Carol, now 63, who was born in Upminster, Essex, was diagnosed with Eisenmenger’s Syndrome at the age of five. At the time, there was nothing that could be done to treat the rare disease, which leads to irreversible lung damage. Most patients died before turning 30.

She spent her childhood in and out of hospital, suffering with extreme breathlessness, heart failure and later asthma.

She was told that her only hope for survival would be the development of a technique for heart-lung transplantation.

After 18 months on the waiting list she was paged by the hospital and rushed to the nearest pay phone, at a Little Chef, to make the call that would start her journey to Papworth.

Carol said: “One would have thought that you should be worried about it – it was massive, you don’t get a bigger operation than this. But the reality was that you knew you were going to die, so it was Hobson’s choice – you either died or you died. And the only way out of that was a transplant. I wasn’t worried about it, I remember waking up after the operation and thinking, ‘I didn’t die then’.”

She added: “It’s been a very emotional day, but it’s been wonderful and I’m blessed to be able to be here. It is the gift that few people can give, both from the point of donating and from the point of having a consultant who can actually do the operation.”

After the operation, at the age of 33, she learned to run, swim, cycle and ride horses for the first time. In December that year she climbed her first peak, Pen-y-Gent, and later competed in the Transplant Games.

Despite further episodes of ill health, Carol went on to have a son, Joss, through a surrogate.

She said: “Transplant ought to be looked at in a new light, it ought to be looked at as the new recycling. Because if you’ve got good organs and you don’t need them any more, they could be used again.

“Anybody who has even put their name on the donor list has done a good deal in terms of offering that gift.”

Prof Wallwork, now chairman at Papworth Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, told the Cambridge Independent that even by today’s standards Carol has beaten the odds.

He said: “It’s a huge thrill to see Carol so vibrant and so well. It’s actually very humbling. Her husband talked about her story, about what she’s done in her life and about what she’s managed to achieve after her transplant.

“They both talked about leading a normal life, but actually they’ve led an abnormal life – most people don’t ride horses and climb mountains and travel around the world, partly because they can.

“When you’ve not been able to do that as a child or as a young adult, these are things that people will do. And she’s done them to the full.

“She’s a tribute to the health service. She’s had lots of things happen to her and she’s come through them all, and isn’t that wonderful? At a time when we’re all kicking the hell out of the health service.”

Carol has set up a Just Giving page to help support the Papworth Hospital Charity at justgiving.com/fundraising/Carol-Town.

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