Northern Ireland news

'We couldn't be prouder of brother who died after four-year wait for heart transplant'

Tommy McManus, from Downpatrick, passed away on December 29 at the Freeman Hospital in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne
Marie Louise McConville

THE family of a Co Down man have spoken of their “unbearable grief” following his death – after an almost four-year wait for a new heart.

Tommy McManus (43), from the Kilbride Road area of Downpatrick, died at the Freeman Hospital in England on December 29 as a result of multiple organ failure. His family, who had to wait 10 days for his body to be brought back home, have urged people to join the organ donation register to save more lives, by giving someone “one final and very precious gift”.

Roisin Taggart told The Irish News her brother’s death had plunged their family into a “nightmare”.

“You never ever think it will happen to you until it does,” she said.

Mrs Taggart said her brother “put up one hell of a fight and we couldn’t be more proud of him and all of the wonderful doctors who fought tooth and nail to save him”. However, no suitable heart was found.

Diagnosed at birth with a congenital heart defect called transposition of the great arteries, Tommy underwent open heart surgery at the age of two.

Having studied mechanical engineering, he developed a career which allowed him to travel but while working in Aberdeen in 2015 he became unwell and was later diagnosed with heart failure at the age of 39. Later that year, while visiting family in Downpatrick, Tommy fell ill again and was taken by ambulance to the Royal Victoria Hospital. Three days later he suffered a cardiac arrest and was airlifted to the Freeman Hospital in Newcastle upon Tyne where he was told he needed a heart transplant but was too ill to receive it.

Once he was stabilised, surgeons fitted Tommy with a mechanical pump which allowed his heart to recover, making him a candidate for a transplant in the future. After 10 weeks he was discharged. He moved home to be near his family.

Tommy McManus, from Downpatrick, passed away on December 29 at the Freeman Hospital in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne

Last October, after being on the standard transplant list for three years, Tommy was told both sides of his heart were failing and doctors admitted him to the Freeman Hospital on the urgent transplant list, meaning he would have to stay as an inpatient until a suitable heart became available. However, his heart function deteriorated further and surgeons deemed it necessary to fit a secondary pump to support the other side of the organ. 

After the operation on December 7 he was admitted to the intensive care unit. He was put on the ‘super urgent transplant list’ which has a typical wait of between eight and 10 days. By December 23 Tommy had developed complications with his lungs and kidneys as a consequence of his heart failure. He was put on dialysis and ventilated. Doctors were unable to get him breathing unaided again. As a result, he was taken off the transplant list and all of his major organs began to fail.

On December 29 Tommy’s family said their goodbyes to the much-loved son, brother and uncle, as he was taken off life support and died.

Mrs Taggart said: “Because he had been so ill and was in and out of hospital, everybody was just so sure he was going to be OK and the doctors were just so confident that he was getting a heart. We were just so shocked.

“It’s just so tragic to know that he could have been saved if there were more people on the list.

“Despite all their best efforts, one thing was out of the doctors’ control - there were simply no offers of hearts for Tommy. He had his whole life ahead of him. He had so much he wanted to do and see. That has all been taken from him, and from us.

“The doctors said if a heart had become available a few days previously, the outcome could have been very different.”

Mrs Taggart (34) described her brother, who donated his corneas following his death, as someone who was “extremely intelligent”.

“No matter where he travelled, he made friends instantly. His witty sense of humour and can-do attitude made him a joy to be around,” she said.

The mother-of-one urged people to join the organ donation register.

“The organs are absolutely no good to you to take on,” she said.

“One person can save nine lives. So many people would be willing to receive a transplant if they needed one.

“Donating your organs is something people don’t like to think about and certainly don’t like to talk about with their loved ones. Please sign the register and talk to your loved ones. Tell them that you would like to give the gift of life to others.”

:: To join the NHS organ donor register, go to organdonation.nhs.uk/register-your-details.

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