61-year-old John Henderson developed cirrhosis of the liver, caused by long-term liver damage that prevented his liver from working properly.

At this stage, John’s liver function was severely compromised, meaning that the only way to save his life was a liver transplant.

John, who lives in Buxton, Derbyshire, was referred to St James’s Hospital for specialist care. Luckily for him, the Leeds Liver Transplant Unit was one of just a handful of transplant services in the country that continued to operate during the coronavirus pandemic.

Before he was able to have his liver transplant, John was hospitalised for 9 months after he failed the preoperative cardiovascular investigations. Whilst in hospital, he suffered from recurring chest infections and contracted pneumonia, so doctors were concerned he would not survive the operation.

This was a really tough time for John, as a high-risk patient alone on a hospital ward at the height of the pandemic, “I was so far away from home, and because of restrictions my wife and daughters weren’t able to come and visit me. It was the staff who really kept me going, from the doctors, to the porters, the cleaners and everyone in between – they all went above and beyond the call of duty!”

During this time, John built up his strength through exercise therapy using an exercise bike on the ward until he was well enough to return home and wait to be called for his operation.

The severity of John’s condition meant that a liver was prioritised for him, and in early 2021, he received a call for his transplant.

After travelling an hour and a half, John arrived at St James’s Hospital just before midnight. Unfortunately, his operation was delayed while surgeons completed an emergency transplant on a young girl, so it wasn’t until 2pm the next day that John finally went into surgery.

Thanks to an OrganOx liver perfusion machine supported by funding from Leeds Hospitals Charity, staff were able to preserve John’s new liver overnight.

John says, “I could feel my strength waning in the few days before I was called for my transplant, I’d noticed I was struggling to do normal day to day activities, and I really felt as if I was just days away from death. I don’t know if I would have been here if it wasn’t for that machine, I’m so grateful to have my life back.”

Before this new machine was installed, livers were kept packed in ice before a transplant, but could only survive the cold for a maximum of 12 hours before the risk of being damaged.

Instead of freezing the liver, the OrganOx technology keeps the liver at a normal body temperature by pumping it with blood, medications and nutrients. This means that the donor liver can be preserved in a functional state for up to 24 hours.

Barbara Fiore, Liver Transplant and HB Surgery Consultant explains, “Without the use of the OrganOx, the donor liver would have been in the ice for too long and caused damage before we could have implanted in Mr Henderson. We would not have been able to perform his transplant without the use of the OrganOx.”

Thanks to this innovative piece of kit, eight months on from his transplant, John has a new positive outlook on life and is enjoying spending time with his wife, daughters, and friends.