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Three years ago, James Arthur, who owns Magic Daycare Nurseries in North London, collapsed at work. The next day he was diagnosed with major heart failure and admitted to hospital to wait for a heart transplant. “I was 29 years old, married and with a 19 month old son. I suddenly had to face the idea of Kate having to bring Charlie up without me and Charlie never really knowing his father,” he says.
After five months of waiting, he was lucky enough to receive a donor heart and has been steadily recovering since. “Once I was diagnosed I couldn’t leave the hospital. I was basically waiting every day for someone to die so I could have their heart. That really messes with your mind,” he reveals.
Following a successful heart transplant, he has just taken part in a record breaking 6000m ascent up Cotopaxi in Ecuador, the highest live volcano in the world, with 12 other transplant survivors. The climb took over two weeks.
Seven of the climbers had had a heart transplant and six had had a lung transplant. They were accompanied by the two surgeons who performed their life-saving transplants.
Andre Simon, director of Transplantation and consultant cardiac surgeon, one of the doctors on the expedition said before the climb: “It has been a dream of mine to take a group of our transplant patients, and show the world what can be achieved after a life-saving transplant. In doing so, we will raise the bar of expectation and generate significant awareness of organ donation.
“Cotopaxi is one of the World's highest active volcanos, at 5,897m and is a much sought after prize for mountaineers. We believe will be the highest ever climb by a heart or lung transplant patient, and definitely by a group of transplant patients... the majority of whom have never climbed at all before!
“It will be an amazing feat for each of them to do this, to come from the brink of near death and reach the top of the world.”
The climbers are hoping to raise enough money to buy an Organ Care System for transporting donor organs whilst warm blood continues to be pumped around them. Using the traditional method of packing the organ in ice only gives a window of 3-4 hours between being removed from the donor and being transplanted into the recipient before the organ is useless. The OCS increases this window to at least 12 hours.
They are also hoping to raise awareness of the importance of organ donation as currently one in five people who need replacement lungs or a heart die whilst waiting for an organ in the UK. There is a huge shortage of available donor organs mainly because people simply aren't aware of the issue of organ donation or just have not got round to discussing their feelings about organ donation with their families.
Since having the heart transplant, Mr Arthur also had to cope with the news that his son Charlie has the same genetic mutation.
“We have got two children. We have Molly who is one and she hasn’t got the gene. Charlie who does have the gene is monitored. If it is going to happen it will happen in his late teens or twenties. It affects people from adolescence from when the heart stops growing. We won’t be able to stop it happening but we will be able to checks for signs and we will be able to act quickly. I do think about it when I see his heart pounding when he is running around the garden.”
He admits that the “thought of my son requiring a transplant in the future and the only thing stopping him from getting the treatment he might need being a shortage of donors is truly terrifying. Such a life changing problem could be solved so easily just by people understanding what being a donor means to those who are saved. If somebody is unlucky enough to pass away, then it must be such a peaceful thought to know that such tragedy can also bring life... Their heart can still beat and their lungs can still breathe in fresh air.”
Prior to being diagnosed with major heart failure, Mr Arthur was running his two nurseries and living an active life. “So I came very much from the angle of life was being taken away from me. So it has been a psychological recovery as much as a physical recovery.
“Since having the operation we are expanding our nursery chain and opening a new 100-place in Muswell Hill in September. We are also really pleased as our Magic Daycare Nursery in Whetstone has just been awarded an Outstanding by Ofsted. I love running nurseries as children are so much fun.
“Whilst transplantees have a life of medication ahead of them, we come through the first few years after surgery with more determination than ever to make the most of every day. We live our lives to the full in honour of our donor and their families for making the ultimate gift to us, and don't let anything hold us back. I appreciate life so much more now.”
To donate money towards James Arthur’s fundraising climb go to www.justgiving.com/JamesArthurHeart