Papworth marks first ‘successful’ UK heart transplant

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PA Media

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Retired builder Keith Castle, 52, recovers in bed at the hospital a week after his heart transplant in August 1979

The son of the UK’s first “successful” heart transplant patient 40 years ago has spoken about how his father “became a celebrity overnight”.

Keith Castle, then aged 52, lived for more than five years after surgery at Papworth Hospital, Cambridgeshire in August 1979.

His son, Keith Jnr, is meeting the surgeon Sir Terence English, 86, to mark the anniversary.

It signalled a new era for transplants and his father became a regular on TV.

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Royal Papworth

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Mr Castle, pictured here with Sir Terence English at King’s Lynn Fete in Norfolk, attended various functions

Keith Jnr, who was 29 in 1979, said: “Perhaps that was naïve, but the way we saw it was quite simple, really – without the operation dad would have soon died.

“I remember his first words when he came round were along the lines of ‘did Fulham win on Saturday?’

“Dad became a celebrity overnight, really. People would always stop us in the street to talk about what happened.”

Londoner Mr Castle died in 1985, aged 58.

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Royal Papworth

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Sir Terence English carried out the first heart transplant operations at Papworth Hospital in Papworth Everard near St Neots, Cambridgeshire

Retired surgeon Sir Terence said he struggled to get government support for the procedure.

“Before [Keith Castle’s] operation I’d been met with tremendous criticism about heart transplantation, including a letter from the Department for Health at the end of 1978 saying there would be no funding and the moratorium on heart transplantation would be continuing,” he said.

“I thought ‘damn that’ and managed to get approval from the Cambridge Area Health Authority – and we went ahead.”

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Royal Papworth

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Keith Castle (pictured with his wife Doreen) “even got a new car and a trip to France funded by newspapers who were so keen on covering his story”, said his son

He carried out a transplant on a first patient in January 1979, who survived for a few weeks, and Mr Castle was his second.

“Keith spent 28 days in isolation following the transplant and his success allowed us to generate more funding to ensure the heart transplant programme in the UK could become what it is today,” said Sir Terence.

Surgeons at Papworth have performed about 1,500 heart transplants, including 45 this year.

The hospital, now named the Royal Papworth, completed its move to Cambridge earlier this year.

A history of heart transplants

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Royal Papworth Hospital

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Papworth is described as a “centre of excellence with a pioneering spirit”

  • The world’s first human-to-human heart transplant was carried out on Louis Washkansky in Cape Town on 3 December 1967, led by South African surgeon Christiaan Barnard. Mr Washkansky, 54, died of pneumonia 18 days later
  • The first heart transplant in the UK, on 3 May 1968 was performed by surgeon Donald Ross. The recipient, Fred West, 45, survived for 45 days
  • A spate of heart transplants in 1968 and 1969 with short survival rates led to a UK moratorium on the procedure
  • Sir Terence English carried out the first heart transplant at Papworth in January 1979. The patient survived for 17 days
  • In August 1979, Keith Castle became the first recipient to be discharged from hospital in the UK, living for more than five years

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