Tamworth transplant recipient calls for more people to sign organ donation register

28 August 2018

A Tamworth racehorse trainer whose life was saved by a double lung transplant is calling for more people to sign the organ donation register.

Kirsty Smith, 43, received the lungs in May 2015 following a 15-year battle with the rare heart and lung disease pulmonary hypertension. Speaking ahead of Organ Donation Week, which runs 3-9 September, she is urging everyone who can to sign the register and help others live.

Kirsty, who runs an equestrian livery and training yard in Grendon, said: “I don’t think I would have made another month or two if those lungs hadn’t come available when they did. Without the transplant I wouldn’t be here now, I wouldn’t be winning races with the horses, or seeing my nieces and nephews grow up. It means everything. If you needed a new heart or lungs, would you accept a donation yourself? If you would, you need to sign the register.”

Kirsty underwent her transplant at the Freeman Hospital in Newcastle, after 15 years of living with an intravenous line attached to her body that delivered life-saving drugs straight into her heart. All she knows about her donor is that she was a 50-year-old woman whose organs saved five lives when she died.

“I wrote to her family about six months after my transplant, via the hospital,” said Kirsty. “I never heard back, but I didn’t mind – I just wanted them to know what she had done for me. I think of her and her family often and I hope they find some sort of solace in that she helped so many people.

“My transplant has inspired a huge number of my friends and family to sign the organ donation register. But it still took a lot of time for some to get round to it, even though it takes less than five minutes. It’s easy for people to forget or put it off, and that’s a shame.”

The current ‘opt-in’ system in England and Scotland means you have to register if you want to donate your organs or tissue after your death. The law is currently changing in England in line with the ‘opt-out’ system in Wales, but this is unlikely to come into effect until 2020.

Kirsty added: “Having a transplant for me has been wonderful as it’s meant I can look forward again. I can plan things, whereas before I was just waiting, for the worst to happen or for a transplant that would give me these years. It doesn’t matter how many years you get really, as long as you’ve made the most of them.

“I’d love to live for another 43, but whether I do or not is another matter. But I’ve trained racehorses, I’ve lived a life, I’ve got a family – and I wouldn’t have been able to without the lady who donated her lungs.”

Pulmonary hypertension (PH) is a life-limiting disease affecting the heart and lungs. Only around 7,000 people in the UK have the rare condition and there is no cure. Each year, less than ten people with the condition undergo transplantation of the heart or lungs - or sometimes both. 

Symptoms of PH typically involve breathlessness, fatigue, black-outs and swelling around the ankles, arms and stomach. The condition affects the ability to carry out basic tasks and get around.

Iain Armstrong, chair of the charity the Pulmonary Hypertension Association (PHA UK) said: “For some people with pulmonary hypertension, transplant is their only option - but without donors, these lives can’t be saved. It takes just five minutes to register online and we hope that Kirsty’s story inspires others to think about making a difference.”

To sign the organ donation register, visit www.organdonation.nhs.uk

The PHA UK is based in Sheffield, South Yorkshire, and is the only charity in the UK dedicated to supporting the PH community made up of patients, their family and carers and NHS professionals.

Organ Donation Week is an NHS initiative running 3-9 September to encourage more people to sign up to the organ donation register.

Notes to editor

Images show Kirsty Smith.

A video of Kirsty talking about her transplant can be viewed here (the original file is available)

Kirsty Smith and Iain Armstrong are available for interview; please contact Mary Ferguson at Capital B Media on 01226 766900 or at mary@capitalbmedia.co.uk

About pulmonary hypertension (PH)

People can be born with PH or develop it at any time and it can affect anyone, regardless of age or ethnic background. It affects more women than men.

The seven adult specialist PH centres in the UK are within the Freeman Hospital in Newcastle; Golden Jubilee National Hospital in Glasgow; Royal Hallamshire Hospital in Sheffield; Papworth Hospital NHS Trust in Cambridgeshire; and Hammersmith Hospital, Royal Brompton Hospital and Royal Free Hospital in London.

For further information about pulmonary hypertension visit www.phauk.org, call the PHA UK office on 01709 761450 or e-mail office@phauk.org.   

PHA UK is a registered charity no: 1120756

This press release was prepared by Capital B Media, a public relations and media training agency based in Sheffield, South Yorkshire. For more information, please visit www.capitalbmedia.co.uk.

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