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Suffolk man, 85, is fifth known oldest living heart transplant recipient in England

PUBLISHED: 08:00 09 September 2017

Ken and Maureen Harris. Picture: MICK HOWES

Ken and Maureen Harris. Picture: MICK HOWES


After losing both his father and brother to heart disease when they were in their 60s, Ken Harris knew the odds were against him.

Ken Harris in The Harley Street Clinic after a heart transplant and just before he was transferred to Harefield Hospital. His wife, Maureen, is by his bedside. Picture: COTRIBUTED BY KEN HARRISKen Harris in The Harley Street Clinic after a heart transplant and just before he was transferred to Harefield Hospital. His wife, Maureen, is by his bedside. Picture: COTRIBUTED BY KEN HARRIS

In 1971, aged 38, Mr Harris, who lives in Reydon with his wife Maureen, suffered a coronary thrombosis, from which he recovered.

He went back to work as a civil engineer with British Gas and led a healthy life for 14 years until he started to get severe angina.

An angiogram determined three of Mr Harris’s heart arteries were blocked. He underwent a bypass operation but just days later suffered a “massive” heart attack, rendering the bypass operation a failure.

Another bypass was carried out but this time surgeons couldn’t get the left side of his heart to restart.

Ken Harris, of Reydon. Picture: MICK HOWESKen Harris, of Reydon. Picture: MICK HOWES

With options running out, a doctor who had been experimenting with an artificial heart, came into The Harley Street Clinic where Mr Harris was receiving treatment. It was the doctor’s day off but he went on to make history.

For Mr Harris became the first person in Britain to be kept alive on an artificial heart. “It was rather a privilege,” Mr Harris said.

The world-renowned cardiothoracic surgeon Sir Magdi Yacoub was called in, and told Maureen her husband was going to need a transplant.

At 2am on January 9,1986, Mr Harris - then aged 53 - was given a new heart, donated by a young woman who had died of a brain haemorrhage.

Sir Magdi Yacoub, who carried out Ken Harris's heart transplant. Picture: CONTRIBUTED BY KEN HARRISSir Magdi Yacoub, who carried out Ken Harris's heart transplant. Picture: CONTRIBUTED BY KEN HARRIS

After the operation, Mr Harris was told by the doctors he might get another five years.

However, three decades on and Mr Harris is still going strong, and, at the age of 85, he is the fifth known oldest living heart recipient in the country.

The defiant octogenarian finished his career at British Gas, worked another four years with a local council and has welcomed two daughters, five grandchildren and six great grandchildren into the world.

“I have been very, very lucky,” said Mr Harris, who is originally from Hertfordshire but moved to Suffolk in 1992.

Mr Harris has told his story to mark Organ Donation Week, from September 4-10.

“The point I always like to make is that I am grateful that the next of kin honoured their loved one’s wishes to be a donor,” he added. “Sadly, on too many occasions, the next of kin of people who have got a donor card, or are on the register, when the time comes won’t agree to the donation being made.”

Latest figures show 39 people in Suffolk have died on the waiting list for an organ transplant over the past 10 years.

Even if a deceased person is on the donor register, a transplant can not go ahead without their family’s consent. Left to make the decision for someone they love, people often decide it is safer to say no.

In Suffolk, there are currently 51 people waiting for a transplant.

Anthony Clarkson, assistant director of organ donation and transplantation for NHS Blood and Transplant, said: “It’s a tragedy that people are dying unnecessarily every year in Suffolk waiting for transplants.

“We know that if everyone who supported donation talked about it and agreed to donate, most of those lives would be saved.

“This Organ Donation Week, tell your family you want to save lives. A few words now can make an extraordinary difference. It will also make things much easier for your family to make the right decision.”

To join the organ donor register, see here

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