A BLACKBURN teenager is back home with a new heart - two months after she was given a five per cent chance of survival.
Emily Linaker, 14, had been on the waiting list for a transplant for several months, but an operation became urgent after her heart deteriorated so suddenly it left her on the brink of death.
Mum Sam said they now feel like ‘the luckiest family on the planet’ after a donor heart became available just at the right time and she urged others to sign up to save lives.
The Blackburn schoolgirl suffered from restrictive cardiomyopathy, reducing her blood flow, and doctors became concerned in November when she began vomiting heavily. She was taken to the specialist Freeman Hospital in Newcastle.
Emily’s blood pressure and heart rate then dropped dangerously low and she was admitted to intensive care, where she was fitted to a life-support machine, to stand in for the lungs and heart.
But the weakness of her heart, added to the surgery to fit the machine, caused some internal bleeding which medics feared she would not recover from.
Sam, 47, said: “She was very, very poorly for about three days and it was touch and go whether she’d make it. She was bleeding so heavily that when they opened her chest there were three litres of blood washing around in her lungs.
“They only gave her a five per cent chance of survival and talked to us about preparing for the worst. It was such a hard thing to hear and I can’t even begin to describe how it felt. I was so scared, it was unreal.
“But gradually the bleeding stopped and they managed to stabilise her and clean up the blood.”
Emily had by then been moved towards the top of the transplant waiting list, and fortunately a heart then became available.
Sam, who is married to drainage engineer Kevin, said: “It was perfect timing because, had it turned up a couple of days earlier, she would have been too poorly to accept it.
“There were eight children on the priority list but it was an adult heart and she was the biggest. We feel like the luckiest people on the planet that it came up at that time.”
The transplant went ahead on November 13 and there were no complications, but Emily had to stay at the Freeman for another five weeks, returning home just in time for Christmas.
She has since suffered some seizures, while some nerve damage to her leg means she will be on crutches for a few weeks, but these are not major concerns and there have been no problems with the heart.
The family, of Manor Close in Hoghton, were told the donor was a lady in her 30s who died from a brain tumour.
For the next three months Emily has to take about 40 tablets of medication each day, and will need weekly checks in Newcastle, but she hopes to return to school and relative normality around April.
Emily, a pupil at St Thomas’ Centre in Lambeth Street, Blackburn, said: “I feel tonnes better already and I’m glad to be at home. I can finally go upstairs without having to stop. I didn’t really experience a lot of what happened in hospital and when I woke up it felt like I’d been asleep for ages and ages.”
Sam, who works as a nurse educator, added: “The staff at Newcastle were absolutely wonderful. I genuinely couldn’t fault any of them and we can’t thank them enough. What they did was incredible, and we are also so grateful to the donor for being so thoughtful and generous to sign up to the register and give Emily a chance of life.
“When we left there were still people with young children who had been there when we arrived and were still waiting for an organ. It was really heartbreaking to hear their stories, so we need as many people as possible to sign up to the donation register.”
Patients who have a heart transplant live another 20 years on average, although younger patients often live longer.
However, Sam said she is hopeful that medical and technological advances will enable new organs to be grown or mechanical hearts to be fitted, which could extend Emily’s life further.
Julie Flett, children’s transplant liaison sister at the Freeman Hospital, said: “We are delighted that Emily is doing so well following her heart transplant.
“She has been incredibly brave and is a great credit to her family. Our thoughts are also with the donor family especially at this time of year.”