Organ donation: '˜I thought I had flu, but I needed a new heart'
This week is Organ Donation Week and people are being urged to turn an end into a beginning. Today, Aasma Day talks to Lancashire dad Peter Wakefield who thought he had flu but ended up needing a life-saving heart transplant.
WHEN Peter Wakefield began suffering from a cough and symptoms of a cold, he thought he just had a touch of flu and carried on as normal.
A couple of weeks later, Peter’s symptoms hadn’t cleared up and he felt out of breath and then one morning, he woke up to find his face all swollen.
Peter, who was 29 at the time and lives in Heysham, near Morecambe, explains: “It all began at the end of March last year but I did not think anything of it at first as I just thought I had flu.
“I had a cough, was out of breath and had general flu type symptoms.
“Then one morning I woke up with such a swollen face, I looked like the Elephant Man.
“I couldn’t even see out of my eyes properly as my eyelids were so swollen.”
Peter, who was working maintaining caravan parks in Morecambe, Blackpool and Cumbria at the time, rang 111 and was booked in to a same day surgery to see a doctor.
After listening to Peter’s heart and breathing, the doctor told him he was fine and thought he had just had an allergic reaction to something and told him to get some antihistamines.
However, the next morning, Peter began coughing up blood. He thought it was probably down to grazing his throat through coughing so much, but rang 111 again who told him to go to A&E.
After hearing Peter’s symptoms, the hospital doctor at Royal Lancaster Infirmary asked Peter if there was any hereditary heart disease in his family and Peter explained his dad, also called Peter Wakefield, died of a heart attack at the age of 47 when Peter was nine.
Peter recalls: “The kept me in hospital for tests and told me that something was definitely not right but they were not sure what it was.
“Scans and tests showed I had patches on my lung, partial pneumonia and a blood clot on my lung.
“I then had an echocardiogram and a total scan of my heart and this revealed my heart was basically knackered.”
Tests revealed Peter had become ill with a virus which had attacked his heart which led to destroying it leaving him with dilated cardiomyopathy – where the heart muscle becomes stretched and thin.
Peter was referred to Lancashire Cardiac Centre in Blackpool where they carried out further tests and managed to control Peter’s heart with medication.
Doctors were planning to fit Peter’s heart with a mini defibrillator but the procedure had to be cancelled twice as he was too ill.
After three weeks at Blackpool, Peter was referred to Wythenshawe Hospital in Manchester and was shocked to be told his heart was only functioning at 25 per cent and he needed to be put on the urgent waiting list for a heart transplant.
Peter, now 30, who has a six-year-old son George, remembers: “I had already been warned this would be the worst case scenario but it was a huge shock.
“You don’t expect to be told you need a heart transplant at 29.
“I had always been fit and active and I played football and went on days out with my son.
“I had never been in hospital before and never really been ill before so to suddenly have something major like this happen was a massive shock.
“Doctors told me I had to stay in hospital until they found a new heart and told me that without a transplant, I wouldn’t see the year out.
“That’s when it hit home and really sank in.”
Medics kept Peter’s heart going with medication and in August last year, he was told they had a new heart.
All Peter knows about is donor is that she was a woman in her 50s.
He admits he did feel guilty at the realisation that someone else died before he was given his chance to live.
Peter explains: “When I was on the waiting list for a transplant, I did feel uncomfortable as I felt I was waiting for someone else to pass away for my chance to live.
“It does make you feel guilty, but if the person had opted into organ donation, it is what they wanted and their choice.”
The heart transplant went ahead and was a success and Peter recalls noticing a difference straight away.He says: “It felt like a whole weight had been lifted.
“Before the transplant, I was struggling to breathe. Even when I went to the toilet, my heartbeat would rise.
“But after the transplant, I felt normal. I was in critical care for a week but I was walking within two days.”
While in hospital, Peter became friends with another man waiting for a heart transplant called Christopher Randall who was in his 50s.
Sadly, Christopher died while waiting for a transplant but he donated his own organs.
Peter says: “Christopher was an amazing person who made every day better in the hospital.
“But unfortunately a transplant never came in time for him.
“He was in a worse way than me and deteriorated and passed away.
“However, he ended up saving two people’s lives with giving his organs for donation.”
Peter says it was a difficult time for his family when he was in hospital and his brothers and sisters had to be tested for heart conditions too.
One of his sisters was supposed to get married last August but postponed the wedding as she did not want to go ahead with it while Peter was in hospital.
Peter is on anti-rejection medication but apart from that, he feels as good as he did before and is getting on with his life.
Peter says: “I feel fine physically and mentally and I am now doing everything I did before – football, days out and spending time with my son and I am out on my bike every day.
“The only thing I am struggling with is getting back into work since my transplant.
“I am a bricklayer by trade but when I try and get work, I am asked why I was out of work for a year and tell them I have had a transplant.
“I even tried to get a job in a chippy but did not get it.
“I feel as good as I did before and just want to get back to work.”
Peter has now reached the one year milestone since his transplant and says it feels amazing to be here after all he has gone through.
He says: “It is brilliant and I feel so back to normal now, it does sometimes feel like it never happened.
“To be honest, I had never really thought about organ donation until this happened to me.
“Now I think so highly of organ donation as I would not be here without it and so many people would not have a second chance of life.
“A lot of people would be willing to accept an organ if they needed one, but are not willing to give.
“But if everyone thought like that, there would be no transplants.”
During Organ Donation Week, hospitals, health teams, charities and supporters and their families will be highlighting the need for people to talk about organ donation and share their decision with their family.
Start a conversation today and help to turn an end into a beginning.
Visit www.organdonation.nhs.uk or call 0300 123 23 23. Share your decision with your family using hashtag #YesIDonate
To register as an organ donor through the Lancashire Evening Post’s campaign, visit: http://bit.ly/givethegiftoflife