Sisters look forward to ‘normal’ festive season after heart transplant ops

Allison Kerr, 55, and Karen Owens, 58, were diagnosed with a genetic heart condition which had previously led to the death of their father.
Allison Kerr, 55, and Karen Owens, 58, were diagnosed with a genetic heart condition which had previously led to the death of their father.

Two sisters who both had heart transplants are looking forward to celebrating their first normal festive season in years after making full recoveries.

Allison Kerr and Karen Owens were diagnosed with the genetic heart condition familial dilated cardiomyopathy which led to the death of their father in 2005.

As their symptoms progressed the sisters discovered their only option was to undergo heart transplantation, and they both had to shield during the pandemic due to their vulnerability.

Mrs Kerr, 55, received a new heart at NHS Golden Jubilee in Clydebank in 2020 while her sister received one in 2021.

They are now looking forward to being fully able to celebrate Christmas and new year.

Ms Owens, 58, said: “I was having a bath the other day and it suddenly just washed over me that I felt good. I felt normal. I don’t know my donor’s name, but I call her Angela because to me she is an angel.

“I got quite emotional in my house about it, that part is quite hard to deal with. I said out loud ‘thank-you Angela’.

“For so long I felt dull and lifeless, now I feel like I have music in my head again. I haven’t been able to celebrate in so long: the last two years I was in hospital over the holidays, as well as on my birthday and the anniversary of my transplant.

“To feel like this and finally be able to have a normal Christmas and new year is fantastic and I can’t wait.”

Although her transplant went well, Ms Owens has spent 205 days in hospital over the last year due to other medical problems.

Not long after her transplant she developed two lung infections, which had nothing to do with her heart but came from soil she was using at her allotment.

Doctors then discovered a pre-cancerous growth on her foot which required surgery.

She said: “It really did affect me mentally more than anything. It just felt like one thing after another and it was scary.”

Karen Owens, left, and Allison Kerr both had heart transplants (NHS Golden Jubilee/PA)

NHS Golden Jubilee is home to the Scottish National Advanced Heart Failure Service, which is the adult heart transplantation centre for Scotland.

Since April this year, the team have performed 28 heart transplants.

Before they became ill, the sisters, from Coatbridge in North Lanarkshire, were known for taking on charity fundraising challenges and have now started doing so again.

They teamed up with another transplant patient from NHS Golden Jubilee, Marie Coyle Robertson, to raise awareness of the importance of organ donation, thank the team who cared for them and also celebrate the memory of all those who have donated an organ and given someone else the gift of life.

Mrs Kerr, who has two step-children and three grandchildren, said: “We teamed up with Marie to raise money and awareness for the heart transplant service by walking 100,000 steps throughout October.

“If you’re fit and healthy, that’s usually very doable: but when you’ve had a recent heart transplant it’s much more of a challenge, but we did it and raised £2,000 in the process.”

Jonathan Dalzell, a consultant cardiologist and transplant service clinical lead, said the transplant unit at the Golden Jubilee has seen a marked increase in the number of heart transplants over the past three years.

He said the national change to an “opt-out” organ donation system is likely to have contributed to this increase in transplant activity.

Dr Dalzell added: “Looking after Allison and Karen throughout their journey has been a privilege for our team and now seeing them thrive and take on a 100,000-step challenge makes our jobs worthwhile.

“We are hugely grateful to them for what they have done for the service, and hope they have a wonderful festive season.”