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Longest-Surviving Heart Transplant Patient Breaks World Record

In 1984, 18-year-old Bert Janssen, from the Netherlands, received a heart transplant in London’s Harefield Hospital after being diagnosed with cardiomyopathy. Janssen’s condition meant that his heart had trouble pumping blood around the body. 

At the time, a heart transplant had not yet been carried out in the Netherlands, so Bert was referred to Professor Sir Magdi Yacoub, a transplant doctor in the UK. Bert’s surgery was the 107th heart transplant to be done at Harefield Hospital, with the first only being performed four years earlier. The surgery was a success, despite his immune system rejecting the new organ, Bert Janssen is now the longest-surviving heart transplant patient in the world. 

The Guinness World Records recognised Janssen with this title on September 14, 2023, having lived 39 years and 252 days with his transplanted heart. Bert, now 57, 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 proven that it is possible to come this far while having a donor heart.” 

The record-breaker’s heart was donated by a young adult who had tragically died in a car accident, along with another person. Since his transplant, Bert has taken part in both the European and World Transplant Games, a non-profit organisation that holds multi-sport events for organ transplant recipients, donors and donor families. 

Despite Janssen’s milestone, Dr Fernando Riesgo Gil, Harefield Hosptal’s lead of heart transplants, pointed out how many people are on organ transplant waiting lists, and how, “Many of these people will die on the waiting list because we have a shortage of organ donors in this country,” with the average wait time for a transplant in the UK being 18-24 months. Currently, 7,314 adults are on the waiting list in the UK, according to the NHS, with 248 of those patients being under the age of 18.

The first human-to-human heart transplant surgery was first performed in South Africa in 1967 by Christiaan Barnard on Louis Washkansky, but the patient died 18 days later from pneumonia. As of 2021, 31,238 heart transplants in the United States have happened in the last ten years. 

Although this kind of transplant surgery has come far over the last fifty years, it doesn’t come risk-free. It was found in 2022 that 85 out of 100 patients were alive a year after heart transplant surgery, and 72 were alive five years after. The average survival rate after this surgery is 14 years, depending on each recipient, and the death rate was recorded in 2011 as being 5-10 percent.

As of 2022 27.7 million people were registered to be organ donors in this country. There is a law that states all adults will be considered organ donors under the Organ Donation Act unless they decide to opt-out. Every donor can save up to 8 lives, and improve the quality of life for over 75 more people.

Edited by Chloe Mansola

Image ‘hand, heart, beat, cardiac’ by asawin licensed by CC0 1.0


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