A CARLISLE veteran has become the first patient to undergo a pioneering heart transplant operation at Newcastle’s Freeman Hospital.

It is the first time surgeons in the region have performed a transplant from a donor who died when their circulation stopped - meaning the heart had stopped beating.

Previously the heart needed to still be beating for transplantation to work, limiting the number of organs that could be donated.

But this pioneering new technique enables doctors to restore the heart function then use revolutionary ‘heart in a box’ technology to maintain it during transportation to the surgery centre.

Now doctors at Newcastle Hospitals have successfully performed their first ever such transplant - on Kenneth Morris, from Carlisle.

The 65-year-old has suffered from serious heart problems for more than two decades.

He collapsed suddenly during an orienteering event at the age of 42 and was subsequently diagnosed with dilated-cardiomyopathy - a disease of the heart muscle.

Initially it was managed with medication and he was fitted with several ICDs (implantable cardioverter-defibrillators) to regulate his heartbeat and prevent a fatal cardiac arrest.

However, more recently he became unwell and was placed on the urgent transplant list.

He has since been waiting for two years for a donor - and would still be waiting had it not been for the pioneering new procedure.

“There was a turning point for me one day, I knew that when I couldn’t cross the street without getting out of breath, that my heart was failing.” said Kenneth, who served in the army.

After two years of waiting for a suitable donor, Kenneth was offered the opportunity to join the Donation after Circulator Death (DCD) programme - a technique used in kidney, liver and other transplants.

Kenneth became the first patient to undergo this type of heart transplant at the Newcastle Hospitals’ Institute of Transplantation - one of the UK centres that can carry out this surgery.

He said that after years of waiting for a transplant, he was at the airport in Manchester - ready to fly out to Rome to meet partner Elaine - when the lifesaving call came.

“I was in the mindset that I was either waiting to die or I would wait for a new heart – so I decided to start doing all the things I wanted to do and enjoy living my life.

“I was in the departure lounge when the transplant co-ordinator called me to say they had a heart for me.

“I feel extremely blessed to be the first person to have this treatment. I was in the right place at the right time – another few hours and I would have been on a plane.”

Since having his heart transplant, Kenneth has decided to sell his car and start walking more.

“I recently walked 11 miles along Hadrian’s Wall and plan to do as much walking, keeping fit and looking after this heart as long as I can, in honour of the person who has lost their life,” he added.

“Of all my years in the army, I don’t think I’ve ever come across the courage this family and the donor have shown.”

Asif Shah, consultant cardiothoracic surgeon, performed the operation.

He said: “Kenneth presented with end-stage heart failure and was placed on the urgent transplant list. His transplant was a great success and he recovered remarkably well.

“Previously we couldn’t use these hearts for transplantations because the heart has stopped beating, but this procedure sees the organ restart using a beating machine, which restores the energy supply during the journey from the donor hospital to the recipient hospital.

“We are hopeful that this procedure will, in the future, enable about 20 per cent more hearts to be available.”

About 400 people die each year waiting for transplants. To join the register visit www.organdonation.nhs.uk.