Girl's frozen heart saves sick toddler

BY Vicki Shaw A YORKSHIRE toddler has been saved by a groundbreaking operation using the heart of a girl which had been frozen for three years.

The remarkable procedure was performed on a three-year-old boy at Leeds General Infirmary after the organ was allowed to "defrost".

The youngster was given a new heart valve from the organ which had been stored since teenager Nicola Raphael took her own life after being bullied by classmates in Scotland.

In an extremely rare move, 16-year-old Nicola's heart was stored in liquid nitrogen at an organ bank in Edinburgh until a suitable recipient became available.

It is the fourth time Nicola's organs have been used to help save lives.

Her mother Rona, 51, said she had been "overcome with emotion" at the latest transplant operation, which took place last week.

She said: "When I heard I was so happy, the tears were streaming down my face.

"Organ donation was very important to Nicola and to find out she has saved a fourth life gives me a lot of comfort.

"It means she didn't die in vain and in a way, these donations are keeping her memory alive."

When Nicola died, doctors were able to save her heart's two main valves and they were preserved until a patient requiring valves the same size became available.

The valves can last for several years in liquid nitrogen but the desperate need for transplants usually means they are used very quickly.

Because of Nicola's age and heart size, though, it was only this month that a suitable patient was found.

The valve was transferred to Leeds and thawed for 24 hours before transplantation.

Overdose

It was given to the three-year-old boy, who has not been named, and will grow naturally in his body so he should not need further surgery.

West of Scotland transplant co-ordinator Lesley Kelly said the operation was not unique but extremely rare.

She said: "Three years is quite an unusually long length of time. Most valves are used within a few months as they are so sought-after."

Shortly after her death Nicola's liver was donated to a seriously ill baby and a kidney has gone to save a five year old boy. The second kidney and pancreas saved the life of a 38-year-old man. Nicola, from Dunbartonshire, was found unconscious in her bedroom in 2001 after taking a drug overdose. She was taken to hospital but died the following day.

Her death came amid claims of bullying at at her school, where she was part of a group who wore gothic make-up and clothes.

Nearly 6,000 people are waiting for transplants but less than 3,000 are carried out each year because of a lack of donors. One in 10 people on the waiting list will die before they can have the operation.

More than 11 million people are registered as donors in the UK, but that is still only 20 per cent of the population.

People can sign up to the organ donor register by phoning 0845 60 60 400.

vicki.shaw@ypn.co.uk