Mum with breast cancer receives 'groundbreaking' transplant in UK first

ITV Meridian's Charlotte Briere-Edney reports.

A mother from Oxfordshire has been given another chance of life after being given the UK's first breast bone transplant.

Nathalie Brett, 34, was diagnosed with metastatic (stage four) breast cancer when she was 24.

During the 10-hour innovative operation, her entire breast bone, known as the sternum, and part of her collarbone were removed, and replaced with a bone from a deceased donor.

Surgeons then used titanium and steel to attach them back in place.

The operation, known as an allograft sterno-clavicular reconstruction, was performed in June 2021 at the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford.

Despite the advanced cancer, the mother of one has been given a better chance of living longer, and is virtually free of pain.

Nathalie said: "We're still in the early days but it has certainly given us a lot of hope. For the first time in over a decade I have no active cancer in my body and that is something we never thought would happen.

"For the first time in a very long time I can see a future in which I might get to grow old and most importantly get to see my daughter grow up."

  • Nathalie Brett talks of having a brighter future ahead

Nathalie, who lives near Witney in west Oxfordshire, was given very limited chances of survival having been diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer in 2012.

Despite receiving radiotherapy and different chemotherapies, the cancer continued to cause her constant pain.

After giving birth to a healthy baby girl against the odds in 2020, Nathalie was given the option of the pioneering surgery.

She added, "I was offered a once in a lifetime surgery and, although it was a hard decision to make, I had to take it - for my daughter and for my family.

Nathalie says the transplant has given her a better chance of being able to see her daughter grow up

She added, "I couldn't say no. I had complete faith and trust in Mr Di Chiara and his team which made the decision to go ahead with the surgery a much easier one.

"My biggest concern was the recovery and not being able to look after my then nine-month-old daughter independently for a long time and that proved to be the hardest part of the surgery."

It is believed to be the first time surgery like this has been done in the UK - a version of an operation that was carried out in Italy.

It was a 10-hour theatre case involving six surgeons, two anaesthetists, and 10 support staff.

The bone reconstruction Credit: Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust

Francesco Di Chiara, Thoracic Surgery Consultant at the Trust, said: "When I was offered the opportunity to meet with Nathalie, I found it astounding that she had been diagnosed with advanced stage cancer a decade ago and on top of that that she managed to deliver a healthy baby less than a year before.

"It is amazing how the paradigm of treatment has changed for patients with cancer, with a greatly extended life expectancy even in the face of a diagnosis of advanced stage cancer, the surgical community more and more has to think of new solutions that take into greater consideration the quality of life and longevity of patients.

"Nathalie is a phenomenal woman who has gone through so much physically and mentally, and we are overjoyed to see her doing so well after undergoing an operation that has never been done before."

Nathalie Brett discusses the success of her operation with her surgeons

Tom Cosker, Consultant Orthopaedic Oncology Surgeon said: "I am so proud of our colleagues who helped us carry out this groundbreaking operation which, never done before in the UK, has resulted in a remarkable outcome for the patient, removing the cancer from her body and helping her to live a longer life with her family.

"From the moment I met Nathalie I have been amazed by her extraordinarily positive mental attitude.

"Her desire to embrace even the most radical treatment, and her determination to get through whatever has been thrown at her.

"She is an extremely brave and determined patient who has faced almost insurmountable challenges with the utmost enthusiasm."

  • Tom Cosker, Consultant Orthopaedic Oncology Surgeon

Kyle Bennett, Assistant Director for Eye and Tissue services at NHS Blood and Transplant, said: "We are so pleased that Nathalie was able to get this life-changing transplant thanks to the generosity of a donor and their family.

"It was a privilege for us to be able to work with the team at Oxford University Hospitals to enable this incredible operation to go ahead.

"Transplants, and firsts of this kind, just wouldn't be possible without the generous support from families who say yes to donation, at what is often some of the hardest and most difficult times of their lives."