WHEN Newport Pagnell pensioner John McCafferty shook hands with the world’s top heart transplant surgeon last week it was truly a heartfelt gesture.
For they were celebrating the fact that Sir Magdi Yacoub transplanted the heart of a young road accident victim into John’s body 30 years ago.
Then aged 40, John was told the new heart would give him just a few more precious years to spend with his family.
At the time, fatally ill with cardiomyopathy, weighing six stone and so weak he had to be carried to the bathroom by his teenage son, his own heart was due to fail within months.
“It was still an experimental operation and the doctors said that if I had a transplant they couldn’t promise me more than five years,” he said.
“At that stage no-one had survived for longer but I didn’t have to think twice. I wanted the chance to live and see my son grown up and get married.”
Today, 30 years on, John is hale and hearty and has earned the accolade of Britain’s longest heart transplant survivor.
On Thursday, the grandfather-of-one travelled to Harefield Hospital to be reunited with Professor Yacoub.
He broke down in tears as he paid tribute to the surgeon and the Harefield staff.
“If it had not been for them I would not be here. I’m indebted to them and always will be, and particularly to the professor and people like him, and to the whole medical team,” he said.
Over the years John has run half marathons, swan miles at a time and even taken part in the British and European Transplant Games.
Professor Yacoub, who is now 76, said John’s 30 year anniversary was “wonderful”.
He said: “He is in many ways a role model because he is living proof of how successful this procedure can be. He has led a healthy lifestyle and should be an example to us all.”