Heart op mum – 10 years on
Heart patient celebrates 10th anniversary of transplant
A decade after having a lifechanging heart transplant, Ashford mum Helen Smith is still raising money for the hospital that saved her life.
Helen, 53, of Hythe Road, was born with mitral regurgitation (a leaky heart) and has suffered related heart problems since she was a baby.
But the married mum of one said she always felt her problems “were not as bad as other people’s” and couldn’t believe it when doctors told her a decade ago she would need a transplant.
She said: “I have always had something wrong with my heart but there were two incidents when I needed a defibrillator and then after that it got quite a lot worse.
“I went for an assessment and the doctors knew right away I would need a new heart. It was quite a shock, especially when they said I only had a 30% chance of actually getting one.”
While Helen’s name sat on a transplant waiting list her health began to deteriorate, but the brave mum continued to live life as normal.
She added: “I was working at the Premier Inn back then and carried on working right up until the day I had my transplant.
“My friends and colleagues used to look at me to see what colour my lips were and check whether they had turned blue!”
In June 2006, Helen headed up to Harefield Hospital, in Middlesex, which has the largest and most experienced heart and lung transplant unit in the UK.
The surgery was an initial success, but three years later – after bowel surgery – Helen’s body began to reject the new heart.
She said: “I had lost a lot of weight. I could eat anything and my weight just wasn’t going up.
“So I went to the William Harvey Hospital and got blue-lighted straight up to Harefield.
“I was put in a medically induced coma for five weeks and it was touch and go.
“I had a heart attack when I was in the coma and my husband, Bob, was told I had about 12 hours left to live.
“When I woke up, I spent another two weeks in the intensive therapy unity.
“I had to learn to walk again, learn to feed myself – everything.
Helen did get better but just four years later, in June 2010, she had to have another transplant – this time a kidney donated by her brother.
She said: “I think the kidney problems were brought on because of the reaction to the heart transplant.
“I went on dialysis at the William Harvey three days a week.
“Eventually they said I would need a transplant, and both my dad and brother offered to donate but my brother was a better match.”
Just weeks later, her brother Andy Christie, 54, also from Ashford, travelled to Harefield hospital to donate one of his kidneys.
Helen added: “It has been a bumpy ride but I’m lucky to have had the amazing support of my family and friends.
“Also, I’m quite naive and I think that works in my favour a lot of the time because I just don’t ask questions!
“You just don’t give up, you can’t, you just have to keep going.
“The amazing team of doctors and nurses have saved my life three times and I want to give something back.”
Helen will be holding a coffee morning at her house to raise funds for Harefield Hospital, transplant specialists. On Saturday June 18, from 10am to 4pm, there will be a raffle, coffee, cakes and other treats at her home at 118 in Hythe Road. Everyone is welcome.
‘It’s been a bumpy ride but I’ve have had amazing support from my family and friends’
Helen Smith with her brother, Andy Christie, who also donated a kidney to her