NHS Blood and Transplant is urging people to tell their families they wish to become organ donors, after statistics revealed the number of people spending Christmas on the heart transplant waiting list is 24% higher than last year.
There are currently 298 people on the waiting list for a heart transplant compared to 240 people at the same time last year. This includes 33 children who will spend the Christmas period seriously ill.
Sally Johnson, NHS Blood and Transplant’s Director of Organ Donation and Transplantation, said: “Hundreds of people are spending Christmas waiting for a call that might never come. Their families will be spending the festive period living with fear and uncertainty.
“We desperately need more people to agree to donation to help with the number of people waiting for hearts and organs of every kind.”
For most patients on the heart transplant waiting list, all other medical options have been exhausted, and a donated organ is their only hope.
Jim Lynskey, 22, from Birmingham, needs a heart transplant as he had a meningitis virus infection when he was a child which caused the organ to fail. He had a LVAD (Left Ventricular Assist Device) pump fitted as a bridge to surgery. However his pump failed in October and he underwent an urgent 12-hour operation to fit a second one.
Jim spent his 22nd birthday recovering from surgery and is temporarily off the waiting list while he recovers. He said: “I can’t receive a transplant this Christmas but there are around 300 people on the heart transplant waiting list who desperately need that ultimate gift. I really want everyone to tell their families: ‘I want to save lives by donating.’
“It’s hard to think about a transplant for myself at the moment because I know it would be a massive operation and I feel it would be the final throw of the dice in a way.
“I was told I’d have around three years with the LVAD before I got a transplant and it’s now three years later and to be getting another LVAD instead of a heart is pretty gutting.”
The Department of Health recently launched a consultation into an ‘opt out’ system of organ donation for England. Under the proposed system, members of the public would automatically be a donor unless they didn’t want to donate.
Sally Johnson said: “Whatever the outcome of the Opt Out consultation, if you support organ donation, please act today. Tell your family you want to donate and join the NHS Organ Donor Register.”
Steven Tsui, consultant cardiothoracic surgeon at Papworth Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, and chairman of the NHS Blood and Transplant Cardiothoracic Advisory Group, said: “The UK heart transplant waiting list has been growing year on year.
“A lot of people who could donate do not discuss their wish to be an organ donor with families and friends. When they die, their organs simply go to waste.
“Heart transplant is the most amazing treatment for patients with advanced heart failure. The transformation is quite miraculous. On average, a heart transplant recipient can expect to live for another 14 years; the lucky ones could even get 25 or 30 extra years.”
Health minister, Jackie Doyle-Price, said: “Organ donation is a selfless gift which can transform someone’s life.
“This government is committed to transforming the way organ donation works but if we are to save lives, it is also vital that everyone talks to their loved ones about their wishes.”