Britain's longest surviving heart transplant patient celebrates 40th anniversary at Papworth

  • Watch a report by ITV News Anglia's Stuart Leithes

A woman believed to be one of the longest surviving heart transplant patients in the world has celebrated her 40th anniversary by being reunited with the staff who cared for her.

When Sandy Law, 67, was given a heart transplant at the Royal Papworth Hospital in November 1982, she was their youngest patient to successfully undergo the operation.

Forty years later and after a second heart replacement in 2005, Mrs Law is now the longest surviving heart transplant recipient in the UK.

She told ITV News Anglia she felt "ecstatic".

"It's just unreal. It doesn't seem like 40 years. I'm just happy - over the moon," she said. "The biggest extra thing I've had is I've had all those years with my husband, which is wonderful."

From left to right: surgeons Steven Tsui, Sir Terence English and Sandy and her husband Terry. Credit: Royal Papworth Hospital

To mark the big milestone, she and husband Terry were invited to a special celebration at the Royal Papworth Hospital in Cambridge, where she was reunited with the two surgeons who carried out her transplants.

“When I was a child it was predicted that I would have died before reaching the age of 30, of that there was no doubt," said Mrs Law, who now lives in Newcastle.

“In 1982 I was 27 and so ill that Terry used to carry me downstairs in the morning. I would stay in one place all day and he would do all the cooking, all the washing, all the cleaning. I was alive, but I had no life.”

Mrs Law had a genetic condition called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM), a disease from which her mother died at the age of just 39.

Like her mother, her defect showed up as a heart murmur during a check after childbirth.

Sandy and Terry Law catching up with the two surgeons who helped save her life Credit: ITV News Anglia

In 1979, a team at the then-Papworth Hospital, led by Sir Terence English, had performed the UK’s first successful heart transplant.

In November 1982, with Mrs Law's heart failing, she became just the third woman to have the operation at Papworth, also performed by Sir Terence.

Her first donated heart lasted 23 years until she developed transplant coronary artery disease - a known complication after heart transplants.

For the second time she was placed on the waiting list to be matched with a suitable donor, with the operation carried out in 2005, by a team led by Mr Steven Tsui who still works at Royal Papworth Hospital today.

Mr Tsui said it was very uncommon for patients to be fit enough for a second transplant

"Out of 1,650 patients who had a heart transplant at Royal Papworth Hospital over the last 43 years, Sandy is only one out of 31 to have gone on to have a second heart transplant.

"So, we are delighted that Sandy had 23 years from her first heart transplant and so far, 17 years from her second transplant. It is miraculous.”

Now retired, she and her husband enjoy travelling around the UK and Europe from the comfort of their motorhome – popping back to Papworth when needed for regular check-ups.

Anthony Clarkson, director of organ and tissue donation and transplantation at NHS Blood and Transplant, said: “It is amazing to hear that Sandy has had such a long and happy life thanks to her heart transplants.

“This wouldn’t be possible without the precious donors, and their families, saving lives at the hardest time for them.

“Sandy’s story and those of other transplant recipients give hope to the thousands of patients, including hundreds of children, on the waiting list for an organ transplant right now.

“Please register your organ donation decision on the NHS Organ Donor Register and share it with your family.”

Want a quick and expert briefing on the biggest news stories? Listen to our latest podcasts to find out What You Need To Know