Monday, 27 September 2021

Accountant tots up 25th anniversary of new heart

A MAN held a party to celebrate the 25th anniversary of his heart transplant.

A MAN held a party to celebrate the 25th anniversary of his heart transplant.

Roger Bell, an accountant, underwent a domino transplant operation at Harefield Hospital in Middlesex in 1988, which saved his life.

More than 90 friends and members of his family attended the celebration at the weekend, including the parents and brother of Johnny Owens, the man whose heart he received.

The 71-year-old widower, of Purfield Drive, Wargrave, said the occasion evoked a range of emotions.

He said: “Like me, Johnny was very ill. He had had a heart and lung transplant at the age of 29 because he had cystic fibrosis and lived for six weeks in intensive care after the operation.

“His family coming to the party from Liverpool was very emotional. They were very happy to come but them being there was overwhelming.

“Johnny gave me the gift of life, there is no two ways about it. It is so difficult to say thank you — whatever you say you can never really express it.”

Mr Bell, who exchanges Christmas cards with the family, arranged for a photograph of Johnny to be blown up and framed for the party.

He said: “We were given the picture years ago as my wife Pammy asked for one and it has been on the mantelpiece ever since.

“For the party I asked his family if I could blow the picture up as I thought it would be nice to have it there on the night so people could see it.”

Four other transplant patients, all members of the Hamsters Transplant Club patients at Harefield Hospital, attended the party at the Bird in Hand in Twyford.

The pub was decorated with red hearts and Mr Bell was given a large, red tin of chocolates in the shape of a heart. Artist Tony Ward, an old school friend, travelled from Germany to be there and presented Mr Bell with a cartoon showing him undergoing the operation.

He said: “I wanted to do something to mark the occasion. It took a few days but I am pleased with it.”

Mr Bell fell ill from cardiomyopathy, a condition that makes the heart bigger and less efficient, at Easter in 1987. Doctors warned that he would die without a heart transplant and the following year he had the operation.

The heart and lungs of a man who had been killed in a road accident in Jersey were transplanted into Mr Owens and his live heart went to Mr Bell.

After the transplant, Mr Bell was put on cyclosporine, an anti-rejection drug but after 10 years this caused his kidneys to fail, which meant he had to undergo dialysis for 12 hours a week for the next three years.

Mr Bell then had a kidney transplant at the Churchill Hospital in Oxford in 1998.

He still has to take cyclosporine but his condition is monitored.

Mr Bell, whose wife died two years ago, has two daughters and five grandchildren. He is using his experience to encourage other people to carry organ donor cards.

He said: “We want to raise awareness so that if something tragic happens, the organs are not wasted.

“Donating and giving others a chance is a wonderful thing. The more people the better because the difference it makes is absolutely incredible.

“It is very difficult, even if someone does have a donor card, for the family to say, ‘yes, take the organs’ so if people can carry cards and also tell their family about their wishes, there will be no confusion if the time comes.”

Mr Bell said he been treated brilliantly by the NHS staff throughout.

“All you hear is bad things about them but I could not have asked for better care from Harefield, the Royal Berks and Churchill in Oxford,” he said.

Another guest at the party was Marian Dunster who has known the Bells since they bought her house in Wargrave.

She said: “Roger was so excited to see everyone at the party and Johnny’s parents stood up and said that the heart could not have gone to a nicer person. I remember 1988 clearly as we thought Roger was dying. The hospital staff rang my daughter Jane at school so she could be told that they had found him a heart.”

After seeing Mr Bell undergo two organ transplants, Mrs Dunster’s husband Peter’s kidneys failed.

She went through six months of rigorous checks before donating a kidney to her husband in 2007. Mr Dunster died of a blood disorder in August 2010.

Mrs Dunster, who now lives in Wargrave Road, Twyford, is chairwoman of the Organ Donation Transplant Committee at the Royal Berkshire Hospital in Reading.

She said: “Roger could not have received better care anywhere in the world. We would like donation to be the norm. It needs to become part of end-of-life care within hospitals.”

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