Monday, July 18, 2011
Transplant patient thanks TV show for new heart, UK
Mr Bell has had heart and kidney transplants while Mrs Dunster donated a kidney to her late husband Peter.
The pair met more than 25 years ago when Mr Bell and his wife Pammy, who died last summer, purchased the Dunsters’ house in Purfield Drive, Wargrave.
The couples became friends and the Dunsters offered support to Mr Bell when he had a heart transplant in 1988.
Mr Bell, an accountant, suffered from cardiomyopathy, a condition that makes the heart bigger and less efficient, and nearly died before the operation.
He first fell ill on Good Friday in 1987.
“I couldn’t breathe and I had to hang out of the window at home all night to get fresh air,” he said.
After a brief spell in hospital, he started to go downhill again in November that year.
“I was on lots of drugs, which stopped me working as my heart had become weaker and weaker,” said Mr Bell.
Doctors sent him for tests after discovering that his condition had been dormant and had manifested itself in a bad outbreak of flu.
Mr Bell recalled: “I was sitting in a waiting room packed full of people.
“When the doctor told me that I was going to die unless I had a heart transplant it was shattering. However, I knew I was going downhill so it also provided a slight bit of hope.”
Three months later, his wife was told that he was going to die as he was admitted to a hospital near Battle in East Sussex.
“It had got to the stage where the only thing that was working was my heart, which was beating enough to take blood from my lungs to my brain.
“I asked for communion and, as the vicar was saying his final words and blessing me, a nurse burst in and told him to stop as they had found a heart. It was incredible.”
He was rushed to Harefield Hospital in Middlesex, where he underwent what is known as a domino transplant.
The heart and lungs of a man who had been killed in a road accident in Jersey were transplanted into another man with cystic fibrosis and Mr Bell received that man’s live heart.
“The next day I was writing a Valentine’s card to Pammy,” said Mr Bell.
“I think the reason I got a heart was that Esther Rantzen had said on That’s Life that if anything tragic should happen to your loved ones, to please donate their organs.
“Harefield received 20 hearts as a result of the programme and I was one of the lucky ones to receive one.”
Mr Bell took cyclosporine, an anti-rejection drug, for 10 years until it caused his kidneys to fail.
As a result, he needed dialysis for 12 hours a week for three years, which he says were some of the hardest times of his life.
“Dialysis is great because it keeps you alive but you are so restricted,” said Mr Bell. “The main thing going through my mind was that I couldn’t have a drink. During the summer it was awful — that was definitely the hardest thing.
“Pammy had a hell of a time when I was ill. It’s terrible as the family are the ones who are put through the stress and she had to worry about how to pay the bills.”
Mr Bell had his kidney transplant at the Churchill Hospital in Oxford in 1998.
“I had prayed that I would get a heart and now I was praying to get a kidney,” he said.
“It was a much quicker recovery than after my heart transplant. I was in hospital for a month but three months later I was back to normal. The difference now is amazing.
“I have been very lucky and I have had the best surgeons, who were fabulous people. I have been saved twice.
“I am still on cyclosporine but the doctors manage my condition.” Mr Bell, who has two daughters and five grandchildren, is a member the Hamsters Club for transplant patients at Harefield Hospital.
“The name comes from the way you look after the operation,” he said. “Now when I see people in the situation I was in it is very emotional.
“It is a wonderful thing to donate and give others a chance. The more people the better because the difference it makes is absolutely incredible. The more people who carry a card, the better. There are so many people on the list waiting for donors.
“I just cannot thank my donors enough — it is difficult to put it into words how much I appreciate it.”
MARIAN DUNSTER couldn’t believe it when her husband Peter became ill.
The couple had supported their friends Roger and Pammy Bell when Mr Bell had his heart and kidney transplant.
“It was unbelievable when Peter’s kidneys failed too,” said Mrs Dunster, who volunteered one of her own kidneys to be used in his transplant operation. “I knew I had to get tested.”
Mrs Dunster, of Wargrave Road, Twyford, went through six months of rigorous checks before the operation in 2007. By then her husband, with whom she had three children, had been ill for about two years.
“It’s the waiting that’s so disheartening for people,” said Mrs Dunster. “Peter wasn’t difficult to motivate but he was very ill and couldn’t get out of bed some days.
“When I was tested I was told that I was a good match. It felt like something from heaven.
“The situation was getting very desperate because the older you are, the less likely you are to come to the top of the pile, which is fair.” Five weeks after surgery, Mr Dunster gave away his daughter Jane when she got married in France.
Mrs Dunster said: “I was thinking that I would have to take him over there on a stretcher but he was fit and healthy.” Since losing her husband to a blood disorder in August 2010, Mrs Dunster has become chairwoman of the Organ Donation Transplant Committee at the Royal Berkshire Hospital.
She said: “Transplant medicine is very exciting as it is a conveyor belt of humanity where people can give back. That’s why it is so important for people to register for organ donation.
“We would like donation to be the norm. It needs to become part of end-of-life care within hospitals.”
Claire Nelson, organ donation nurse at the Royal Berkshire Hospital in Reading, said: “We are trying to encourage people to think about what they are waiting for in life.
“When we are late for work and are waiting in traffic we have a sense of urgency. Think about how people waiting for a transplant operation are feeling.
“Ninety-six per cent of people in the UK support organ donation but only 29 per cent are on the donor list, so what are people waiting for?”