Longest-surviving heart transplant patient breaks world record after London operation

Bert Janssen, aged 18, lying in Harefield Hospital
Bert Janssen, aged 18, lying in Harefield Hospital (l) and Bert Janssen in the Netherlands (r) Credit: Bert Janssen/PA

The longest-surviving heart transplant patient, who underwent his operation in England, has been recognised by Guinness World Records.

Bert Janssen, 57, from the Netherlands, has survived 39 years with the donor heart he received at Harefield Hospital in London in the 1980s.

After developing flu-like symptoms when he was 17, Mr Janssen was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy, a condition that impacts the heart’s ability to pump blood around the body.

His cardiologist in his home country had ties with Harefield Hospital and transplant pioneer Professor Sir Magdi Yacoub, who eventually carried out the operation on June 6 1984 as the patient had turned 18.

The procedure had not been carried out yet in the Netherlands at the time.

Mr Janssen said: “It all went very fast. Only a week after arriving at Harefield, two hearts became available from a major car accident in London.

“I had a match with one of these and the heart was transplanted. As Dr Mattart told me about 30 years later, it must have been the perfect match.”

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Mr Janssen said the new heart allowed him to quickly “return to a good quality of life”, playing tennis and volleyball and securing a full-time job.

He married his wife Petra in 1996, welcomed sons Guido and Ivo in 1996 and 2000 respectively and is now a keen air glider.

Mr Janssen added: “One of my proudest achievements was, along with my wife Petra and both our parents, building our own house brick by brick.”

His operation was the 107th transplant to be carried out at Harefield.

The first was carried out by Sir Magdi in 1980 and the centre has since completed thousands of transplants, with 54 conducted in 2022/23.

Dr Fernando Riesgo Gil, consultant cardiologist and lead of the heart transplantation service at Harefield Hospital, said: “It is fantastic news to hear that one of our early Harefield transplant patients continues to live such a full and happy life so long after his transplant.”

According to data on the NHS Blood and Transplant website, there were 7,314 adults on the active transplant waiting list in the UK as of last week (February 2 2024), along with 248 patients under the age of 18.

Of the total, some 334 are waiting for hearts.

“Unfortunately, many of these people will die on the waiting list because we have a shortage of organ donors in this country,” Dr Gil warned.

“I hope that Bert’s story serves as an encouragement to the public to consider registering as organ donors, to give the gift of life.”

Bert Janssen celebrating the 30th anniversary of his heart transplant with his family in 2014 Credit: far right

Mr Janssen said he is “still grateful for the incredible gift” his donor gave him and hopes his story will be an inspiration to others.

“I could never imagine I would come this far, but nevertheless I always looked up to others who had their donor heart longer than I had,” he said.

“It feels like an honour to have reached this milestone, but what I think is most important is that I set a benchmark for others. It is now officially proved that it is possible to come this far while having a donor heart.

“I assume the marker will yet move quite a bit further and I will be pleased if others will break my record in due course.”

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