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Dutch man recognised as ‘world’s longest-surviving heart transplant patient’ after London operation in 1984

Healthcare Feb 27, 2024 at 10:21

Dutch man recognised as 'world's longest-surviving heart transplant patient' after London operation in 1984

Bert Janssen received a donor heart at London’s Harefield Hospital. He has survived for 39 years – with Guinness World Records now recognising the achievement.

A 57-year-old Dutch man has broken the world record for the longest-surviving heart transplant patient.

Bert Janssen has lived for 39 years with the donor heart, which he received at Harefield Hospital in northwest London in 1984.

The achievement has now been recognised by Guinness World Records.

Mr Janssen developed flu-like symptoms and was diagnosed aged 17 with cardiomyopathy, a condition that impacts the heart’s ability to pump blood around the body.

A heart transplant had never been carried out in the Netherlands,  but Mr Janssen’s cardiologist had ties with Harefield and transplant pioneer Professor Sir Magdi Yacoub, who eventually carried out the operation when Mr Janssen was 18.

His transplant was the 107th to be carried out at Harefield. Sir Magdi completed the first in 1980 with the hospital completing thousands since then.

Mr Janssen recalled: “It all went very fast. Only a week after arriving at Harefield, two hearts became available from a major car accident in London.

“I had a match with one of these and the heart was transplanted. As [his cardiologist] Dr Mattart told me about 30 years later, it must have been the perfect match.”

Mr Janssen said the new heart allowed him to quickly “return to a good quality of life”, playing tennis and volleyball and securing a full-time job.

He married his wife Petra in 1996, welcomed sons Guido and Ivo in 1996 and 2000 respectively and is now a keen glider pilot.

Mr Janssen added: “One of my proudest achievements was, along with my wife Petra and both our parents, building our own house brick by brick.”

Dr Fernando Riesgo Gil, consultant cardiologist and lead of the heart transplantation service at Harefield Hospital, said: “It is fantastic news to hear that one of our early Harefield transplant patients continues to live such a full and happy life so long after his transplant.”

According to NHS data, there were 7,314 adults on the active transplant waiting list in the UK as of 2 February, along with 248 patients under the age of 18.

Some 334 are waiting for hearts.

“Unfortunately, many of these people will die on the waiting list because we have a shortage of organ donors in this country,” Dr Gil warned.

“I hope that Bert’s story serves as an encouragement to the public to consider registering as organ donors, to give the gift of life.”

Mr Janssen said he is “still grateful for the incredible gift” his donor gave him and hopes his story will be an inspiration to others.

“I could never imagine I would come this far, but nevertheless I always looked up to others who had their donor heart longer than I had,” he said.

“It feels like an honour to have reached this milestone, but what I think is most important is that I set a benchmark for others. It is now officially proved that it is possible to come this far while having a donor heart.

“I assume the marker will yet move quite a bit further and I will be pleased if others will break my record in due course.”