Kay Burnett celebrates 30 years of a ground-breaking heart-lung transplant

STUFF NZ | Nikki MacDonald
Kay Burnett, with daughters Melissa, left, and Cherie, who she would never have seen grow up without a life-saving heart-lung transplant 30 years ago.
As the ambulance pulled away from her Marton home, doubt crept into Kay Burnett's mind: "I thought, God, I wonder if I'll see this house again." Her two daughters had already left: 9-year-old Melissa to stay with her uncle down south; 13-year-old Cherie to stay with friends. Her husband, Ian, flew with her to England, where she hoped to be among the first Kiwis to survive a heart-lung transplant.

The odds were barely better than even, but she soon banished the doubt and reckons it's the only negative thought she's allowed herself in the three decades since: "I thought to myself – don't be bloody silly, of course you will."

Burnett not only became one of the first Kiwi heart-lung transplant survivors, but she is believed to be the world's first successful domino-donor transplant patient.

"My heart went to a Dutchman," Burnett declares. She's not talking about a covert love affair. She needed only replacement lungs, but at the time – 1987 – it was considered less risky to transplant the heart and lungs together. When British surgeons found her own heart remained in good condition, they re-plumbed it inside a 50-year-old Dutchman suffering from heart disease, making Burnett probably the first person to live while her heart beat in another body. Continue reading

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