Transplant triumph as 400 patients in East get life-saving organs despite Covid

150721 ted transplant patient

Almost 400 patients in the East of England had a life-saving transplant in the past year despite the strains that Covid-19 put on the NHS.

A report out today from NHS Blood and Transplant shows 389 people in the east were given a new organ.

One of those to benefit was Ted Dodd, 26, from Ely, who was born with only one kidney and a heart problem.

Ted had a kidney transplant and an operation to fix his heart as a teenager but in 2019 his health started to go downhill again.

He was training for a career in the Ambulance Service and found life difficult.

Ted in hospital after his transplant Credit: Ted Dodd

"I started getting tired and was falling asleep a lot. It was difficult for me as the first time I became poorly I was a child - this time I was 25 and my adult life was being disrupted.

"I went on the waiting list in the summer of 2019 and later that year had to go onto dialysis which I struggled with. I felt as though my freedom had been taken away from me. 

But unexpectedly Ted got the call for a transplant that would transform his life.

"The staff were truly amazing. They made me feel safe and I was home after just a week in hospital."

John Forsythe, Medical Director of Organ and Tissue Donation and Transplantation, at NHS Blood and Transplant, said the past year had been a challenge.

"This past year has been completely unprecedented in the history of the NHS, as well as in our wider society. So, the fact that 389 people in the East received an organ transplant is amazing.

Mr Forsythe added, "However incredible this achievement, we mustn't forget that there are still thousands of people in need of lifesaving organ transplants and we are doing our utmost to work with clinical teams and donor families to try and close the gap between those receiving a transplant and those still waiting." 

The number of patients registered on the active waiting list for a transplant in the East fell to 260 at the end of March 2021, however, this does not fully reflect the number of people who need an organ transplant.

Many patients were removed from the transplant list or transplant programmes closed during the peak of the pandemic as it was riskier to carry out transplants and NHS resources were under extra pressure.

The number of families giving consent/authorisation for organ donation to go ahead has risen this year, from 68% to 69% overall for donation across the UK.

The transplant teams say this is particularly significant, as the pandemic and subsequent lockdown brought immense challenges for patients and their families and made consent for organ donation much more difficult, as conversations had to be done virtually. One family who made the brave decision to agree to donation during the height of the pandemic last year was that of 58-year-old Elaine Franklin from Bedfordshire.

Elaine Franklin's family gave permission for her organs to be used to save others Credit: NHS Blood and Transplant

Elaine was returning home from a local shop when she collapsed outside the house she shared with her daughter, Kayleigh.

A hospital CT scan revealed she had a bleed on the brain and a few days following surgery saw Kayleigh and Elaine's younger brother, Lee, receive the worst news from doctors.

Elaine had often talked about organ and tissue donation with Kayleigh and, when invited to talk to the specialist nurses about organ donation, Kayleigh felt there was no decision to be made.

Elaine went on to donate her liver, kidneys, heart valves, tissue and bone saving three lives in July 2020.

Kayleigh, Elaine's daughter, says "The question of donation was really simple for me because I knew exactly what my mum wanted. We often talked about organ and tissue donation and my mum had given blood most of her life and was also signed up to the bone marrow and platelet donor registers.

"Due to Covid restrictions, only myself and my mum's younger brother Lee got the opportunity to visit and say our goodbyes but the specialist nurses at Addenbrooke's were amazing. They spent hours with Lee and I, talking us through the entire procedure.

"I know how much of a difference mum's gift will have been made to these three people's lives and the people around them. It fills me with such enormous pride and joy to know that my wonderful mum has made such an amazing difference."

The change in the law last May in England and in March 2021 in Scotland, means it will be assumed that people want to be a donor after death unless they register otherwise.

Even though the law around organ donation has now changed, it is important to know that people still have a choice and families will still be consulted before organ donation goes ahead.

The new report shows the number of people opting to potentially be an organ donor after their death rose in 2020/21 and opt-in registrations on the NHS Organ Donor Register now stand at 26.7 million - with just 2 million opting out of deceased organ donation.

Covid-19 also had an impact on living donation just as it did in most other countries.

Living donor transplants fell to 32 in the East, this was due to the fact that the UK Living Kidney Sharing Scheme had to be paused for the safety of both the patient and the donor during the peak of the pandemic. This has now resumed.