A woman who was predicted to die aged 30, before having a heart transplant aged 27, is celebrating 40 years since her life-saving operation.
Sandy Law, a retired police administration employee, now 67, is considered one of the longest surviving heart transplant patients in the world.
She and her husband Terry Law, who live in Newcastle but spend much of their time touring Europe in their campervan, visited the Royal Papworth Hospital in Cambridge this month.
There they reunited with some NHS staff who have cared for Ms Law over the years, following two heart transplant operations.
Ms Law had her first heart transplant at what was then Papworth Hospital – based in the village of Papworth Everard, west of Cambridge – in November 1982, and lived in Kidderminster, Worcestershire at the time.
She underwent the operation due to a genetic heart condition that her mother had also suffered from and from which she died at the age of 39.
Ms Law underwent a second heart transplant in 2005 when the first donor’s heart began to weaken.
Recalling her first heart transplant, Ms Law said: ‘At the time, all I wanted was to live.
“When I was a child, it was predicted that I would be dead before I reached the age of 30, there was no doubt about it.
“In 1982, I was 27 and I was so sick that Terry used to carry me downstairs in the morning.
“I stayed in one place all day and he did all the cooking, all the washing, all the cleaning.
“I was alive, but I had no life.”
She suffered from hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM), which causes the heart muscle to thicken, making it harder for blood to enter the pumping chamber, ultimately causing heart failure.
Like her mother, Ms Law’s defect manifested as a heart murmur during a postpartum check-up.
Unlike her mother, she had a new option and took it.
In 1979, a team from Papworth Hospital led by Sir Terence English performed the first successful heart transplant in the UK.
Ms Law was the 42nd person and third woman to have the operation at Papworth, also performed by Sir Terence.
Mr Law said: ‘We were entering the unknown.
“The surgery was pioneering, but so was Sandy.”
His second heart transplant operation, in August 2005, was performed by a team led by surgeon Mr. Steven Tsui.
He said: “Median post-transplant survival is expected to be around 15 years, so we are delighted that Sandy has turned 23 since his first heart transplant and, so far, 17 since his second.
“It is very rare for patients to be fit enough for a second heart transplant – of 1,650 patients who have had heart transplants at the Royal Papworth Hospital over the past 43 years, Sandy is one of 31 to have gone on to have a second.
Consultant cardiologist Dr Jayan Parameshwar, who has been in the transplant unit at the Royal Papworth Hospital since 1992 and provided regular care to Ms Law during that time, said: ‘She has both a great fighting spirit and an indomitable will to live that helped her through difficult times, supported by Terry who was always by her side.
“I am proud of the great team at Royal Papworth who have helped Sandy reach this milestone, I cannot thank them enough.
“We must not forget the donor families involved, without them none of this would have been possible.”