Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Girl who had heart transplant reversed celebrates 18th birthday

by Linda Elias, Cynon Valley Leader

2011 will mark a milestone year in the life of heart transplant patient Hannah Clark.

It will be five years since the teenager underwent pioneering heart surgery, which hit the headlines around the world.

And Hannah will also celebrate her 18th birthday in May – a day her parents once thought they would never see. Hannah made medical history in 1996 when she underwent heart surgery at London’s Great Ormond Street Hospital. Her body had rejected her donor heart – 10 years after she received a transplant.

The donor heart was disconnected and Hannah’s own heart – which was never removed – was able to cope on its own.

Hannah, of Edward Street, Miskin, is believed to be the first UK patient to have her heart transplant reversed. The first heart operation when Hannah was a baby saved her life because she had cardiomyopathy, which made her heart double in size, meaning it could have given out within a year.

The “piggy-back” donor heart was able to take over most of the role of pumping blood around her body, allowing her own heart, which continued beating, to rest.

During her young life, Hannah has also suffered from pneumonia, kidney failure and blood poisoning but her donor heart kept working well until a routine check-up showed her body was rejecting it. Surgeon Sir Magdi Yacoub performed the original heart transplant when she was two and advised surgeons who carried out the operation in February 2006.

Despite her earlier ill health, Hannah is confident, full of fun and believes in living life to the full. Her motto is ‘life’s too short to be miserable’.

Hannah said: “Thanks to the operation, I can now live a normal life just like my friends. It’s great to feel so healthy and not to have to depend on medication.

“I haven’t decided how to celebrate my 18th birthday but I’m really looking forward to it.”

The teenager is a student at Pontypridd College where she is studying child care. Her goal is to work as a play development officer in a hospital environment. She is an active fundraiser for Great Ormond Street Hospital and a marathon sponsored swim in the spring will help fund youngsters attending the Transplant Games in Belfast this summer.

Hannah still sees a heart specialist every six months and suffers from slight chest problems but apart from that is glowing with health.

Hannah’s mum Liz, 45, said: “Hannah is amazing. She now is able to live life to the full. Looking back, I cannot believe how lucky we are to have Hannah and to see her living life to the full.

“There were a number of times when we almost lost her and now when I see her going out with her friends or setting off for college, I have to pinch myself to make sure I am not dreaming. I go into Hannah’s room every night and say a silent thank you prayer for all the wonderful medical staff who saved her life.”

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