Surgeon ready to return to work after "dancing with death" as he contracts COVID-19 while waiting for a liver transplant operation

A surgeon who was in danger of dying unless he had a liver transplant, then contracted COVID before the operation is now planning to return to work on the hospital ward in the new year.

Saturday, 12th December 2020, 6:00 am

Dr Amr Mohesen an orthopaedic surgeon with The Hull University Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust was operated on at St James’ Hospital in Leeds a few weeks ago after he fought off the virus.

The 60-year-old is recovering at home and says he has no plans to slow down or retire after being given a new lease of life.

Dr Mohesen said: “I could retire anytime but I don’t want to stop working, it is a job I enjoy and a service I provide. Going back to work is part of the unwritten contract of getting a transplant and returning to contribute to society.

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The Gift of Life - organ donation and transplant transforms lives.

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Dr Mohesen tells his story as the Yorkshire Evening Post teams up with the British Transplant Games ahead of the 2021 series, which will be held in Leeds.

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Dr Amr Mohesen an orthopaedic surgeon with The Hull University Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust underwent a transplant at St James’ Hospital in Leeds.

In March of this year he became ill again and was admitted to hospital where he contracted COVID. Dr Mohesen was transferred to a COVID isolation ward until he was clear of the virus and well enough to undergo another transplant.

He said: “I ticked all the boxes. I have seen it from the professional end and being a patient. It was quite an eye-opener. It was an interesting dance with the angel of death to put it mildly.

“A COVID ward is a terrible place to be. It is serious isolation. Having experienced it, you begin to understand why they use it as a form of torture - it was literally that.”

He knew the mortality rate from COVID was a 30 per cent chance and topped with the mortality rate for liver transplant recipients he said it was a “sobering thought” and “relentless stress”.

Organ transplant operations are carried out within hours.

Having had his latest transplant, Dr Mohesen becomes very emotional when talking about what the NHS has done for him, even though is part of that very system himself.

He said: “If I was in America, there is no way I could afford this, I would have to die. The NHS provides care to all from the point of entry. Then you have a system in the UK whereby people donate organs. That is a gift of life.

“They have just lost a loved one and are approached to make a donation to someone they have never met and don’t know who they are or their background."

“The surgeons, the medicine is third and fourth place. It is the families that make the donation, they are giving something for nothing to a total stranger. That is human development to a higher degree.”

It comes as latest statistics reveal that last year 408 patients died in the UK on the transplant waiting list because there was a shortage of donors. There are 5,160 people currently waiting for a transplant in the UK and 2,064 people have received a transplant since April 2020.

Despite the recorded shortage of donors last year, there was an increase in the overall consent/authorisation rate for organ donation from 67 per cent to 68 per cent and, despite the coronavirus pandemic, donor rates were still not affected.

However, the virus did mean that the number of eligible donors was affected.

Shahid Farid, Transplant Surgeon and Head of Organ Retrieval at Leeds explains: “Despite the pandemic people are altruistic and that is despite cases and deaths on the news. [You’d expect] people would be thinking the last place I want to go is a hospital but interest is still strong.

“Organ donation, certainly in Yorkshire, was not tremendously affected. We had the same amount of consent rates but what we did see was the number of eligible donations decreased.”

A balance had to be struck between donors, less staff in hospitals, critical care beds being reserved for COVID cases and the chances of passing COVID to the organ recipient.

It was made mandatory that donors could not be COVID positive and they had to undergo screening. Medical teams had to be more selective about recipients, choosing ones that had chances of a better and faster recovery so they would not be in hospital as long.

Organ transplantation and treatment differed during the two waves of the pandemic. Kidney transplants stopped and liver transplants were done on a restricted basis.

Dr Farid said: “There was a difference between risk and fear. We didn’t know what COVID was, what would happen, would it be horrific? Then you learn and think how do you work with the virus, rather than just saying close everything.

“In August more people died of suicide than COVID, there was a lot of impact. Then we thought things were getting back to normal and the second wave hit. But the strategy was different. We had experience, the Nightingale, PPE and staff knew about it.”

Every time an organ became available for transplant during the first lockdown, the Leeds team were able to facilitate it, often within 24 hours, other than just one occasion where it was not possible to meet the criteria.

Dr Farid says that in many ways the pandemic has been positive for the health services in that it has made the NHS work differently and the development of the vaccine also provides hope for the future treatment of other conditions.

He added: “A vaccine has come about in a way that has never been used before. What used to take 10 years was fast-tracked. It was based on cancer work before so hopefully we can learn from this vaccine. It has opened up people’s minds about what we can do to treat things.”