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Woman celebrates 40 years since life-saving heart transplant

Sandy Law had her first heart transplant in November 1982 (Royal Papworth Hospital/PA)
Sandy Law had her first heart transplant in November 1982 (Royal Papworth Hospital/PA)

A woman who had been predicted to die by the age of 30, before having a heart transplant at the age of 27, is celebrating 40 years since her life-saving surgery.

Retired police administration worker Sandy Law, now aged 67, is thought to be one of the longest-surviving heart transplant patients in the world.

She and her husband Terry Law, who live in Newcastle but spend much of their time touring Europe in their motorhome, visited the Royal Papworth Hospital in Cambridge this month.

Sandy Law with Sir Terence English (left), who led the team for her first surgery, and Mr Steven Tsui (right) who led the team for her second surgery. (Royal Papworth Hospital/ PA)
Sandy Law with Sir Terence English, left, who led the team for Mrs Law’s first surgery, and Mr Steven Tsui, right, who led the team for her second surgery (Royal Papworth Hospital/PA)

There they were reunited with some of the NHS staff who have cared for Mrs Law over the years, following two heart transplant operations.

Mrs Law had her first heart transplant at what was then the Papworth Hospital – based in the village of Papworth Everard, west of Cambridge – in November 1982, and was at the time living in Kidderminster, Worcestershire.

She underwent the operation due to a genetic cardiac condition which her mother had also had and from which she died aged 39.

Mrs Law had a second heart transplant in 2005 when the first donor heart began to weaken.

Recalling her first heart transplant, Mrs Law said: “At the time, all I wanted was to live.

Sandy Law and her husband Terry Law with some of the NHS staff who have cared for her over the years. (Royal Papworth Hospital/ PA)
Mrs Law and her husband Terry with some of the NHS staff who have cared for her over the years (Royal Papworth Hospital/PA)

“When I was a child it was predicted that I would have died before reaching the age of 30, of that there was no doubt.

“In 1982 I was 27 and so ill that Terry used to carry me downstairs in the morning.

“I would stay in one place all day and he would do all the cooking, all the washing, all the cleaning.

“I was alive, but I had no life.”

She had hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM), which causes the muscle of the heart to become thickened, making it harder for blood to enter the pumping chamber, eventually causing heart failure.

General view of the Royal Papworth Hospital in Cambridge
Mrs Law visited the Royal Papworth Hospital in Cambridge this month (Joe Giddens/PA)

Like her mother, Mrs Law’s defect showed up as a heart murmur during a check after childbirth.

Unlike her mother, she had a new option and took it.

In 1979, a team at the Papworth Hospital led by Sir Terence English had performed the UK’s first successful heart transplant.

Mrs Law was the 42nd person, and the third woman, to have the operation at Papworth, also performed by Sir Terence.

Mr Law said: “We were stepping into the unknown.

“The surgery was pioneering, but so was Sandy.”

Her second heart transplant operation, in August 2005, was performed by a team led by surgeon Mr Steven Tsui.

He said: “The median post-transplant survival is expected to be around 15 years, so we are delighted that Sandy had 23 years from her first heart transplant and, so far, 17 years from her second.

“It is very uncommon for patients to be fit enough for a second heart transplant – out of 1,650 patients who had a heart transplant at Royal Papworth Hospital over the last 43 years, Sandy is one out of only 31 to have gone on to have a second.

“It is miraculous.”

Consultant cardiologist Dr Jayan Parameshwar, who has been part of the transplant unit at Royal Papworth Hospital since 1992 and provided regular care to Mrs Law during that time, said: “She has both a great fighting spirit and an indomitable will to live which have helped her get through difficult times, supported by Terry who has always been at her side.

“I am proud of the large team at Royal Papworth who have contributed to Sandy reaching this milestone, I can’t thank them enough.

“We should not forget the donor families involved, without them none of this would have been possible.”