Dad leaves hospital after spending more than 200 days in Royal Papworth Hospital

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A father who has spent the entire coronavirus pandemic in hospital awaiting a heart transplant was clapped from his ward as he went home after successful surgery.

Sales engineer Richard Priest, 54, was admitted to Royal Papworth Hospital inCambridge on New Year's Eve to manage his heart condition until a donor organ could be found.

A call about a possible match in early March turned out to be a false alarm, then the number of heart transplants significantly decreased during lockdown as critical care beds filled up with patients battling Covid-19.

Richard Priest had a heart transplant in July Credit: PA Images

His heart transplant went ahead in July and he was clapped by healthcare staff as he walked from the ward on Friday, pushing his medications in a wheelchair, after more than 200 days in hospital.

Richard Priest is greeted by his wife Credit: PA Images

He hugged his wife Rachael Priest as he left the hospital building, and she said it was "wonderful" to have him back, adding: "I can't wait to get him home."

Mr Priest, of Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk, said that the professionalism of the healthcare staff meant it felt like the pandemic was something that "happened in another country".

I've been kept in this little bubble inside Papworth and it's been fantastic. Personally I didn't notice much change during lockdown. I got it second-hand from my wife every day through video calls.

Richard Priest

"But I think I'll adapt quite well because the staff here, every time I walk outside the room, I've got to wear a mask, got to wear gloves, I'm actually used to wearing a mask and gloves all the time."

He said he did notice the empty streets from his hospital window at the height of lockdown.

"The pedestrian traffic going alongside the hospital just stopped," he said.<

There were no people walking along the road any more. That happened virtually overnight. It was quite strange, it was like a zombie outbreak.

Richard Priest

His wife and daughter, Georgia Priest, were able to visit him on VE Day, for the first time since March, and he played games of virtual chess with his step-son Ben Smith via video call.

Speaking the day before his discharge from hospital, Mr Priest said he was "feeling mostly elation".

"It'll be the first time I've been inside my house in seven months," he said. "It'll be absolutely fantastic."

Asked what he was looking forward to the most, he said: "Fish and chips.

He is on immunosuppressant drugs and said he must shield for three monthsMr Priest raised #3,700 to support the hospital's charity during his stay by pedalling 370 miles on an exercise bike, the distance of Land's End to Cambridge.

Richard praised the staff who have looked after him for almost eight months Credit: PA Images

"It will be so fantastic to walk out of the hospital after a major operation like this after a short period of recuperation," he said. "I think it's absolutely fantastic, it's the level of care they give you here.

There were two heart transplant operations at Royal Papworth Hospital in April and one in May, and no lung transplant operations in either month.

This increased to six heart transplant operations and four lung transplants in June, and five heart transplants and one lung transplant in July.