The 40th anniversary of the first combined heart-lung transplant by Sir Magdi Yacoub

The 40th Anniversary of the UK’s first combined heart-lung transplant

In a podcast interview released on 6 December 2023 by the Royal Brompton and Harefield NHS Foundation, Professor Sir Magdi Yacoub shares the extraordinary tale of his struggle to establish a heart and lung transplant program at Harefield Hospital in the UK.

This interview marks the 40th anniversary of the groundbreaking heart-lung double transplant performed by Sir Magdi Yacoub at Harefield, an operation that defied the odds, paved the way for modern cardiac advancements, and changed medical history forever.

Despite initial skepticism and opposition from political leaders, Sir Magdi Yacoub’s determination and innovative thinking ultimately revolutionized the field of transplantation.

Transplant work during that time was regarded as unethical and experimental, with patients not expected to survive beyond a year or two. Sir Magdi faced severe criticism and accusations of performing over-ambitious operations to gain fame.

Moreover, Harefield Hospital, considered a “village hospital,” was deemed unsuitable for major operations. Government inspectors, however, acknowledged the excellence of their unit, dispelling doubts about its capabilities.

In 1983, Sir Magdi Yacoub successfully performed Europe’s first combined heart-and-lung transplant on Lars Llunjberg, a young Swede. Although the patient’s life was ultimately cut short due to preexisting conditions, the operation proved transformative, which led to a dramatic change in the attitudes toward heart and lung transplants, as patients began experiencing longer life spans and an improved quality of life. Sir Magdi Yacoub’s meticulous study and preparation allowed him to perform the complex procedure seamlessly, leaving the medical community astounded.

“Very quickly, seamlessly, as if I had done thousands of these operations.”—Sir Magdi Yacoub

“If you ask many patients do you want to live longer or do you want to have a good quality of life, you can’t have both, they will always go for the quality of life. As it happens, transplantation gives you both—a longer life and a better quality of life.”—Sir Magdi Yacoub

Sir Magdi Yacoub humbly credits his success to the collaborative efforts of his team and the partnership with Harefield Hospital.

He believes that his greatest joy lies in inspiring future generations of medical professionals.

Now 88, Sir Magdi Yacoub’s interview is part of a new podcast series that aims to uncover untold stories from the Royal Brompton and Harefield hospitals, showcasing the exceptional individuals who contribute to their world-leading innovations.

Listen to the podcast episode with Oli Lewington, a double lung transplant recipient at Harefield Hospital.

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