92-year-old Arthur Whitfield Celebrates his 25th Heart Transplant Birthday

At the time of his heart transplant in 1991, Arthur Whitfield then aged 67, was the oldest person to receive a donor heart. 25 years later, determined Arthur today is celebrating being one of oldest, if the not the eldest heart transplant patients in the world!

Back in 1991, after being told by cardiologists that there was nothing that could be done for her father, Elaine went to the top for a second opinion and telephoned Buckingham Palace and asked who would the Queen go to for help. She spoke to a palace aide who immediately recommended Dr Charles Ilsey, and Harefield Hospital. After explaining the situation to Dr Ilsey he agreed to take on the case, and performed Arthur’s successful heart transplant shortly afterwards.

25 years on, Pumping Marvellous agree that this is a terrific milestone worth celebrating – see our tribute – it has been a tough 12 months for Arthur and daughter Elaine as they lost wife and mum, Linda Whitfield, to heart failure only a few months ago, since which time Arthur’s health has deteriorated.. Despite this, Arthur’s next goal is to be the first heart transplant patient to reach 100, and we’re all right behind him.

Social media has been set alight with support for Arthur’s monumental achievements, and cards of congratulations flooded in to the aptly-named Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham, where Arthur was receiving treatment for heart failure, until his transfer yesterday.
To lend your support visit us on facebook or twitter.

Arthur Whitfield 25 year heart transplant birthday 1991:2016

Arthur’s heart problems first began back in 1987, when he developed septicaemia after a piece of tooth was left behind following an extraction, which damaged his heart, already weakened by childhood rheumatic fever. On hearing the news that nothing more could be done for her father and that he could die at any minute, tenacious Elaine went straight to the top, and phoned Buckingham Palace to ask what the Queen would do! Incredibly, an aide answered the phone and recommended Dr Charles Ilsey and Harefield Hospital.

Read more about the royal connection from this story in the Birmingham Post from 1991:

1991: Elaine Whitfield consults Buckingham Palace about Arthur's heart transplant
1991 Birmingham Post: Elaine Whitfield consults Buckingham Palace about Arthur’s heart transplant

Tenacious Elaine is still providing remarkable care for her father, and is one of many inspirational members of Pumping Marvellous’ support group.
Here, she tells Arthur’s incredible story:

“A quarter of a Century!  On 12th April 1991 my father Arthur received an orthotopic heart transplant at Harefield Hospital.  Aged 67, he was the oldest man in the UK to receive a heart transplant.   From the time the consultant had told him that without the transplant he would have a maximum of 12 months but that because of Dad’s size, blood group, tissue type etc., he was hopeful that a suitable heart would be available in 6 months.  His crystal ball must have been well polished because it was 6 months all but 2 days when the phone rang in the middle of the night to say they had found a heart!.

Our bags had been packed and ready from the moment Dad was put on the list, the local dog kennels were on standby to take our Golden Retriever at any time of day or night and so once Byron was settled in kennels we shot off to Harefield.   Not for one second had Dad doubted that his chance would come or that  it wouldn’t be successful so it was with a cheery wave and calling ‘Bye, see you for coffee!’ that Dad was wheeled into the operating theatre.  I think it is that positivity that helped his recovery. The next 8 hours were probably the longest of my Mum and my lives.

We found ourselves being enveloped into the transplant family world by other transplant patients and their families, who kept us company and encouraged us to be hopeful.  They are friends that we made for life.  Three days later my Dad was using an exercise bike!  At that time life expectancy post transplant was 5 years and we were happy to think that we could have another 5 years together and encouraged that there were some transplant patients who had reached 10.  We realised how lucky we were and decided as a family that we needed to make every day count and at least a part of every day special, not just for us but for those who’s paths we cross – even if it’s only to give a smile to a stranger.  In our joy we never forget that there is a family out there without who’s generosity Dad would not be with us.  They are the ones with the empty chair at the table!

The first year was an emotional rollercoaster with suspected rejections episodes and many ups and downs.  We had two trips a week to Harefield  plus a trip to our local hospital  for the first 6 months and then the follow ups spread out a bit and eventually it was every 6 months.  Dad followed the doctor’s instructions to the letter and  it was wonderful to see my Dad regain his health and strength.

We had given our motorhome to a charity when Dad became ill, thinking that we would not be using it again so I can’t tell you the pleasure it gave us to go out to buy a new one, and start going on touring holidays again and make the most of every extra day we have. We also wanted to give something back to the transplant community and over the years we have distributed 1.5 million donor cards at venues throughout the Midlands, raised more than £80,000 for transplant charities and in 1994 I was Regional Organiser for National Transplant Week organising over 100 events for the week and writing a service of thanksgiving which was held at Birmingham Cathedral and is now held annually at various venues.

We have been so very lucky, the 5th anniversary passed, the 10th, 15th 20th and here we are at the 25th anniversary and Dad is now 92 . 

He has some heart failure again now but is determined to achieve his ambition to be the first transplant patient ever to reach his 100th birthday.  Personally I have everything crossed that he makes it ! 

I don’t know how you every properly say thank you for an extra 25 years of life that you would never have had but I hope that we have gone some way to showing our appreciation and will continue to do so for as long as Dad keeps ticking!”


For media enquiries, please contact PumpingMarvellous.org