Teenager's second chance at life

SUFFOLK teenager Gareth Barham is home today and looking a picture of health.The 15-year-old is now well on the way to recovery after undergoing a life-saving heart transplant.

SUFFOLK teenager Gareth Barham is home today and looking a picture of health.

The 15-year-old is now well on the way to recovery after undergoing a life-saving heart transplant.

Twenty years ago the youngster's chances of survival would have been slim. But thanks to pioneering work in the East Anglian region, thousands of people have been given a new chance at life and Gareth is one of them.

The first heart transplant in the UK was carried out at Papworth Hospital in Cambridgeshire and since then more and more people's lives have been saved.


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Now back at home with his parents Peter and Julie in Bury St Edmunds, Gareth is well on the road to recovery and is getting used to being able to do the simple things that most of us take for granted.

He is now studying for his GCSE exams at Bury's County Upper School.

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Gareth said: "I am having to take it easy but it has been lovely seeing all my friends again and I am really enjoying being home."

The family's ordeal began last year when a virus attacked Gareth's heart muscle. Doctor's then discovered his heart was only working at 30% the normal rate, and he was put on the waiting list for a heart transplant.

On December 22, he received a phone call from London's Great Ormond Street Hospital to say a replacement heart had been found.

"The hardest thing was waiting without knowing when the operation was going to be," said Gareth, who is a member of a performance youth group and has a keen interest in singing.

He said: "While I was in hospital I was able to speak to other people who had gone through a transplant operation, which was a great comfort to me. It was a very difficult time but now I am just really pleased to be home and I am looking forward to getting back to normal as soon as possible."

Gareth returned home on Monday to a warm welcome from friends and family.

Mr Barham, Canon Pastor at St Edmundsbury Cathedral, said that having Gareth home has meant the family can start to relax for the first time in seven months.

He said: "I am finally able to come downstairs without having to worry about how well Gareth is, or leave the house for 10 minutes without making sure I have got my phone and pager with me in case something happens."

Gareth now plans to learn Latin, and is looking forward to performing in the Cathedral Performance Youth Group's annual play, which he wrote himself to keep himself busy while in hospital.

He has also promised to teach his elder sister Hannah, 17, to cook before she goes to university in September.

Mr Barham said: "Gareth's illness has made us a lot more focused as a family, and we have stopped worrying about the silly things in life.

He said: "Seeing so many sick children in the hospital has made us so thankful for what we have. Gareth was well for 14 years of his life, and although we have had seven months of this ordeal we have now got our son back, while some of those children will never get better.

"We can now start to plan for the future and that is all thanks to the donor who gave Gareth his heart. There is no way he would have ever got better without that person's help, and although we will never know who they are we cannot thank them enough."

n Today more than 6,000 people in the UK are waiting for an organ transplant. To find out how you can help, contact the NHS Organ Donor Line on 0845 60 60 400.

FAST FACTS

THE first heart transplant in the UK was carried out at Papworth Hospital in Cambridgeshire.

The transplant was a success and the recipient was 40-year-old Gordon MacDonald.

Papworth is now one of eight hospitals where heart transplants take place in the UK.

The first heart transplant operation in the world was at a hospital in Cape Town, South Africa. The man who received the new heart died 18 days later after he contracted pneumonia because the drugs he had been given to stop his body rejecting the heart lowered his immune system.

Around 300 transplants are completed each year in the UK now and patients face an average wait of six months for the operation. But around 15 out of every 100 patients die while on the waiting list.

Patients who are added to the waiting list for a transplant will be those suffering from severe heart failure and who have a 50 per cent chance of dying within a year because of the condition.

All transplant patients are given drugs after the operation to prevent their body rejecting the heart. The drugs are known as immunosuppressants and help protect the heart from rejection in the crucial first few months after transplant. They do however, still result in a lowered immune system.

SOURCE: www.bhf.org.uk

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