Heart Transplant

Category: Families

Island's First Heart Transplant 10 Years On

Some members of the Comann Eachdraidh spent a most enjoyable afternoon with Iain and Annie Maclean in their home at 33 Back recently. Iain a'Bhorbair formerly of Crossroads, Tolsta and Anna Chromartaidh of 20 North Tolsta, recalled events leading up to Iain's heart transplant operation, his time in hospital and their appreciation of all that was done for them during that time.

Iain suffered his first heart attack as a young, 39 year old, man in May 1979. Two more attacks followed and then by-pass surgery in September 1984. Because of the extensive damage caused by the attacks the by-pass surgery did not help his condition. Iain was in constant pain. He was very breathless. He was unable to drive and he had difficulty with walking. The only option open to him was a heart transplant and in February 1990, after much thought and discussion with his wife Annie, son Angus and daughter Ishbel, he agreed to have his name put on the "active" list for an organ transplant. There was no heart transplant unit in Scotland at that time so Iain was assessed and registered at the Freeman Hospital , Newcastle and given a bleeper with instructions to carry it with him at all times.

For eighteen anxious months Iain carried that bleeper. He was on medication in preparation for his surgery and was feeling very unwell. Annie was in a constant state of readiness - bag packed, washing, ironing, housework etc all under control and ready for a quick get away once a suitable organ became available. They had had a couple of false alarms, but, "On the day the bleeper went off for real I was anything but organized!" she claims.

Their daughter Ishbel, her husband, Alex John, and their nine month old grandson, Graham, had been on holiday with them for two weeks from Inverness . Iain and Annie had seen them off on the ferry at 2pm and were in the Corner Shop for some groceries when they became aware of the 'bleep'. Annie jokes about how she got the shop assistant to check what she thought was a noise from a faulty till, before she realized that the noise was from their bleeper and that they had to move smartly! (There is no doubt that Annie's sense of humour helped the whole family through the following months).

The events of that day are imprinted on their minds and you can feel the excitement as they tell their story.

It was a Saturday - Saturday 2 nd of October 1993. They headed home, collected their bags. At 4pm that afternoon a jet arrived at Stornoway airport from Aberdeen ; 5.30pm they were in the heart transplant ward; 8pm Iain was in theatre; 10pm the heart arrived at the hospital and a nine-hour operation followed.

It was Tuesday morning before Iain, wrapped in foil from head to toe, was aware of his surroundings. The critical stage seemed over but then another crisis! His new heart stopped beating and he had to be resuscitated! Despite this crisis, he was on an exercise bike in the hospital gymnasium one week later and within two weeks he was walking four miles a day!

Iain and Annie stayed for two months in a flat in the hospital grounds and Iain was checked by the hospital doctors everyday. For the first six to eight weeks after getting home he had to travel to Newcastle every week for a check-up. Biopsies were taken to check for any signs of organ rejection. Unfortunately signs of rejection became evident and once again Iain had to take a decision and once again he had no real choice. "My choice was - reject the heart and die or take more drugs and face the consequences", Iain tells us. Sadly there were consequences. He developed osteoporosis - a very painful condition.

Iain's pleasant nature and exceptional patience have stood him in good stead throughout the ups and downs of the past ten years. But Iain does not dwell on the hard times. He is full of praise for the wonderful, professional team of doctors and nurses at the Freeman Hospital and also for the support and encouragement of the doctors and nurses at the Archway Medical Practice, Stornoway.

Ten years on Iain regards his operation as a 'success story' and would encourage anyone who finds himself/herself in the position he was in, ten years ago, to go ahead with the operation. He only goes to Newcastle once every three months now and he would go through it all again! To him the operation has meant many happy, family occasions that he would not have seen otherwise - the birth of his grand-daughter Catherine on the fifth anniversary of his transplant, his son Angus's wedding this year and many more. He also stresses the importance of carrying donor cards. His organ donor was a 19 year old, who tragically died as the result of an accident, but he was not given a name or address. However he can write to the donor's next of kin through the hospital, something he has done on several occasions, to express his "heartfelt thanks for his gift of life" (his words).