Newcastle Hospitals celebrate 50 years of heart transplantation

Staff at the Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust were joined by patients past and present to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the world’s first successful human heart transplant.

Guests came together at Newcastle’s Institute of Transplantation to pay tribute to Christiaan Barnard who first carried out the pioneering procedure at Groote Schuur Hospital in Cape Town, South Africa on 3 December 1967.

Mr Asif Hasan, director of heart and lung transplantation at the Freeman Hospital, welcomed guests to the event which included emotive and inspirational talks by former patients Scott Rutherford and Roger Pape.

Roger, from County Durham received his heart transplant in October 2015, he said: “I was 10 years old when Christiaan Barnard performed the first heart transplant and remember, with the rest of the world, watching the news with absolute awe. I never dreamed for one moment that fifty years later I would be talking about my own transplant.

“Because of this hospital, I’ve been able to give both my daughters away at their weddings; a massive thing for any father. I am in awe about what medicine can achieve and have so much admiration for the clinicians and scientists who make it happen.”

Patients gather to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the first successful heart transplant

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Other guests at the celebration included Kaylee Davidson-Olley who became the first successful and longest surviving baby transplant in Europe after her transplant in 1987, the Freeman Hospital’s longest surviving heart transplant patient Gary Leonard and 9-year-old Max Johnson who underwent a successful heart transplant at the Freeman in August this year and fronted the Mirror’s Change The Law For Life campaign.


Max was diagnosed with dilated cardiomyopathy in December 2016 and spoke at the celebration event about the time he spent at the Freeman Hospital waiting for his transplant. Max’s mum Emma Johnson said “I am very honoured, privileged and blessed to be able to attend with Max today after having his transplant in August. The conversations around organ donation are extremely important and regardless of any law change I want to encourage families to have a conversation about their wishes around organ donation.

"We’re delighted to be invited and want to say a huge thank you to all of the wonderful staff at the Freeman Hospital and to anyone who signs up to the organ donor register, especially Max’s donor.”

Mr Asif Hasan said: “It was wonderful to welcome everyone to the Institute of Transplantation, to mark the 50th anniversary of the first human heart transplant. While it is a time for celebration and refection of the huge advancements that have been made in transplantation we must also remember and be thankful to those who donated their organs to help others live.”

The Freeman Hospital’s cardiopulmonary transplant service was established over 30 years ago and carried out its first heart transplant in 1985 followed by the first lung transplant in 1987. Since then the unit has performed almost 800 heart transplants, including over 140 in children and over 600 lung or heart and lung transplants.