Mum is dying for a heart

VIDEO Today fun-loving and active Suffolk mum Hilary Cowie should be looking forward to her wedding.Instead she is lying in Papworth Hospital with a titanium heart keeping her alive while she waits for a donor to come available that will save her life.

TODAY fun-loving and active Suffolk mum Hilary Cowie should be looking forward to her wedding.

Instead she is lying in Papworth Hospital with a titanium heart keeping her alive while she waits for a donor to come available that will save her life.

As he waits by her bedside her fiancé Peter Mills is pleading with the public to sign up to the organ donor register as the lack of suitable donors means his partner faces an uncertain future.

Mrs Cowie, 53, has been desperate for the heart transplant that will save her life since she was diagnosed with the hereditary condition dilated cardiomyopathy several years ago.

And after being given only weeks to live doctors took the drastic step of giving her a metal heart to keep her alive.

Mr Mills, 53, who runs the Queen's Head pub in Dennington, near Framlingham, said: “She'd been on a cocktail of drugs for a while and we thought she'd be OK for about seven or eight years longer than this.

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“Than after Christmas she just went downhill so quickly, she was out of breath all the time and couldn't walk ten feet.

“She was taken to Papworth Hospital (in Cambridgeshire) and she really needs a heart transplant.

“But unfortunately a heart is not something you can buy off the shelf.

“It can mean you're waiting two to three weeks or it could be six to seven months, or even more.”

So the couple, who have seven children between them and are planning to wed as soon as Mrs Cowie is fully recovered, made the big decision to have her own heart replaced with a titanium heart.

Experts at Papworth Hospital, a specialist heart centre in Cambridgeshire, spent nine hours in the operating theatre on Wednesday putting in her new heart and giving her another chance to live.

Today Mrs Cowie is still in hospital and Mr Mills said he hoped she would be able to leave within two months.

But he stressed that the battle was still not over.

When she leaves hospital she will have a pipe coming out of her waist which is attached to the machine that pumps her artificial heart and even with the modern technology she would still need a new, donated, heart within two years to survive.

He added: “We both carry donor cards and I would urge everyone to make sure they do.

“You never know when it might happen to you and you might need an organ, and there is a real shortage of donors.

“In fact in most of Europe it is automatic that people's organs are given and I think it should be like that here too.

“It is sad that someone has to die to keep someone else alive but that is life and death.

“If we got a heart now it would be like winning the lottery.”

Mr Mills said the traumatic experience had affected all the family and as a result Mrs Cowie's 24-year-old daughter, Stephanie, who lives in Essex, is planning to run the London Marathon for the British Heart Foundation next month.

He added: “Hilary is such a wonderful woman, very outgoing and bubbly and the life-and-soul of any party.

“This has been very hard for her, as it would be for anyone who thought they only had a few months to live, but she is a very positive person and she just hopes she'll be able to get back to normal with a heart transplant.

“I hope that looking forward to the wedding is one thing that will help her through it.”

To register to become an organ donor fill in a form at your doctor's surgery, call 0845 6060400 between 7am and 11pm, or visit

Organ donation

More than 7,000 people in the UK need an organ transplant that could save or dramatically improve their life but less than 3,000 transplants are carried out each year.

Kidneys, heart, liver, lungs, pancreas and the small bowel can all be transplanted and modern techniques may mean more organs will be added to the list soon.

Tissue such as corneas, skin, bone, tendons, cartilage and heart valves can also be donated.

One in ten people waiting for a heart transplant will die and many others will lose their lives before they even get on to the waiting list.

The first successful kidney transplant was in 1954 and the first heart transplant took place in 1967.

The NHS Organ Donor Register is a confidential, computerised database which holds the wishes of more than 13 million people who want some or all of their organs donated after their death.

Source: UK transplant

Fast facts - dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM)

With dilated cardiomyopathy, the muscular walls of the heart become stretched or dilated. This causes the heart to become larger and the heart muscle weaker, making it unable to pump as well as it should.

Symptoms include tiredness and shortness of breath while exercising or resting.

People with the condition may also have heart palpitations and notice their ankles becoming swollen.

DCM isn't common. It affects around 35 people in every 100,000, with men twice as likely as women to get it.

Although it's not entirely clear why people develop DCM, there are a number possible reasons. It may follow a viral or other infection of the heart or be part of an autoimmune process where for an unknown reason the body attacks itself.

In some cases it runs in families.