Organ Donation Week: An Open Letter

This Organ Donation Week, Consultant Paediatric Cardiologist Dr Matthew Fenton shares his thoughts in an open letter.

I’m Matthew Fenton and I am one of Doctors here at Great Ormond Street that looks after children needing a heart transplant. I am part of a big team that since 1988 has looked after more than 670 children who needed to have either a heart, lung or heart and lung transplant. 

Finding out that your child needs a heart transplant is difficult to come to terms with. Often the decision is made after trying many different ways of making them better. Helping a family who need a transplant is made more difficult because they can only get better through the kindness and thoughtfulness of strangers. Amazing families who decide that donating organs from their relatives or even their child, is right for them. Their courageous actions then help so many other families. 

Despite the bravery of these families we do not have enough donor organs to help every child who is placed on the waiting list for a heart transplant.

Sadly, as many as one in five of the children who are placed on the waiting list for a heart transplant do not survive. Other children, critically ill when we first see them, need to be supported with a mechanical heart. This means that they are confined to the hospital whilst waiting for a donor heart to become available, often for as long as a year. 

Organ Donation Week

Organ Donation week makes me think about the donor families and how they have helped literally hundreds of children to have the life they deserve. Recovery for sick children after a heart transplant is amazing. Within a few weeks they are at home, a few months back at school and from then on, they are able to contribute fully to school and family life. If you didn’t know it, you would not guess that they had any health problems at all. The transformation is miraculous and the thanks for that lies clearly with the donor families. 

So, this year’s Organ Donation week, here at GOSH, we are hoping to raise awareness and let everyone know that an organ transplant is a life-enriching operation for so many critically ill children. The law has changed to an opt-out system but it's still important to have a discussion with your family and make sure that they know your wishes. 

I hope that we can help all the children that I see, needing a heart, lung or any other organ to give them the life they deserve. Thanks.

Enjoy this article? Hear from Lucie and Isobel, two sisters who were given life-changing heart transplants at GOSH. Read here.