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John McCafferty

My new heart's lasted for 27 years.  Told his new heart would last only five years, John McCafferty never thought he would see his son grow up.  But now his grandson is a teenager

John McCafferty had his heart transplant in 1982

As a young boy and into my early teens, I played rugby and took part in athletics for my school. It wasn’t until I began my apprenticeship as a woodcutting machinist that I noticed any signs of having heart problems.

I was ill every winter with coughs and colds and had to keep taking time off work. During one of these episodes my GP decided to send me for a chest x -ray. It showed that I had an enlarged heart.

This result didn’t bother me at the time for I was aware my mother also had an enlarged heart and appeared to have no restrictions – she had raised eight children and gone back to full time work when my father died when I was ten years old.

During my early 20s, I remained extremely active with little or no further illness, though I had started smoking and drinking.

At 39 and general secretary to the Defence Police Federation, I was working extremely long hours, commuting and travelling all over the country. I felt that with all the stress of the job and travelling, any fatigue I was suffering was due to that.

However, during one train journey from Scotland to London in April 1982, I started having discomfort in my chest. I thought too many late nights and perhaps I should cut down on cooked breakfasts. The following day I had symptoms of a panic attack, felt sick and my heart began to race. I called a doctor and it wasn’t long before I was in cardiac care at Northampton General Hospital.

I left hospital with the usual bag of medication but had not registered how ill I had become. I was soon back in hospital with increasing shortness of breath and fluid retention. I was told I should have complete rest for six months.

I was not eating much and becoming weaker. When my wife Ann was at work my 14-year-old son Iain had to take on the role of carer. During another hospital admission I was told I had dilated cardiomyopathy and my only hope was a heart transplant. Realising how ill I had become, I immediately came to terms with the possibility of the operation.

I was transferred to Harefield Hospital for transplant assessment. Back in 1982, heart transplants were relatively new and much was still being learned about preventing organ rejection. So although the survival rate was very low at that time, I had no option and was really too ill to care. I was told that if I survived the operation my extended life expectancy would only be about five years.

Awaiting a donor organ seemed to be never ending and I wondered if I would ever be lucky enough to last out. I was now down to six stone, almost half of my original weight.

By October of that year, my mother and one of my sisters had travelled down from Scotland to help care for me. I was on oxygen and doctors had given me less than a few weeks to live. Thankfully, on October 20th, a donor heart became available and I was transplanted that evening by world renown surgeon Professor Sir Magdi Yacoub, a patron of the CMA.

This was a turning point in my life. The six-hour operation went well and it didn’t take long for me to see the positive effect on my health.

Besides being truly grateful to the family of my donor and for the expert skills of the medical staff at Harefield Hospital, I was determined not to dwell on what I had just been through. I would get back to fitness and put on weight.

Nephew's new heart is 20 years old

John McCafferty’s young nephew Steven Paterson, who lives in Scotland, also received a heart transplant at Harefield Hospital at the age of 12.
   He also suffered from dilated cardiomyopathy. He has since grown up, got married and is a radiographer. His heart is now 20 years old and he remains healthy too.

I was encouraged to exercise to build up my strength and the doctors were so happy with my progress they allowed me home for Christmas.

Within a short period, I went back to work though I took early retirement at 41 on medical grounds, never imagining I’d be alive at 67.  After a full year off to recuperate I joined the IT department at Milton Keynes Hospital, where I stayed for 19 years.

To get fit I began swimming, doing 80 lengths of a 25-metre pool, and I trained for half marathons, taking part in the British and European Transplant Games.

But the greatest present has been seeing my son grow up, get married and have his own son who is now 13.

For those who suffer from all forms of cardiomyopathy, I would strongly recommend that you follow the advice given by your health professionals.

The Cardiomyopathy Association's Registered Charity Number is 803262.
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