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Papworth hospital marks 40th anniversary of first successful UK heart transplant

The UK's first Credit: PA

Papworth Hospital is celebrating the 40th anniversary of the first successful heart transplant in the UK.

The transplant was performed at the newly named Royal Papworth on patient Keith Castle by surgeon Sir Terence English on 19 August 1979.

Mr Castle left hospital to go home in October 1979 and lived for five years post-transplant.

His survival without the operation would have been a matter of weeks.

Before the operation I'd been met with tremendous criticism about heart transplantation, including a letter from the Department for Health at the end of 1978 saying there would be no funding and the moratorium on heart transplantation would be continuing.

I thought 'damn that' and managed to get approval from Pauline Burnet at the Cambridge Area Health Authority and we went ahead.

Keith spent 28 days in isolation following the transplant and his success allowed us to generate more funding to ensure the heart transplant programme in the UK could become what it is today.

– Sir Terence English, Surgeon
Heart surgeon Sir Terence English at Papworth hospital in 1986. Credit: PA

More than 8,000 heart transplants have been carried out in the UK in the last 40 years.

Surgeons at Papworth have performed about 1,500 of those, including 45 this year.

A special anniversary event is taking place at Papworth today, which is now based on the Cambridge Biomedical Campus, after moving from the old site at Papworth Everard.

Keith Castle a week after undergoing his heart transplant operation Credit: PA

History of Papworth hospital:

  • 1967: The world's first heart transplant was performed 12 years previously, by Christiaan Barnard at Grote Schur Hospital in Cape Town, South Africa, in 1967.
  • 1968: The first in the UK - and 10th in the world - took place in 1968 at the National Heart Hospital in London with a couple more to follow by 1969.
  • 1969: Survival rates fail to improve and a moratorium is placed on heart transplantation in the UK
  • January 1979: Royal Papworth performs its first heart transplant in January 1979, but the patient died just over two weeks later in hospital
  • August 1979: Sir Terence performs Keith Castle's operation on the 18 August 1979. Keith comes round and regains consciousness the following day, 19 August.
Surgeons performing a four hour operation at Papworth Hospital in Cambridgeshire. Credit: PA
  • October 1979: Keith is discharged from hospital and as a result becomes the first UK heart transplant recipient to be discharged from hospital, thus making it the first successful one. Keith lives for more than five years post-transplant.
  • 1984: Europe's first successful heart-lung transplant performed at Royal Papworth
  • 1986: World's first successful heart-lung and liver transplant performed at Royal Papworth
  • 2015: Europe's first non-beating (DCD) heart transplant performed at Royal Papworth.
The first patients were admitted to the new Royal Papworth Hospital in April 2019 Credit: PA