HEALTH:  Heart recipient encourages others to ‘have the conversation’

 Heart recipient encourages others to ‘have the conversation’

By Lucy Ashton

When Steve Donaldson (61) was 18, his dream was to be a cyclist and compete professionally in competitions. Sadly, Steve’s dream was short lived. When out cycling one day in 1980, he had pains in his chest which led him straight to accident and emergency.

Steve had a Ventricular tachycardia (VT) – a fast heart rate arising from the lower chambers of the heart – and was put immediately on heart medication. It was the start of a journey of hospital visits, medications, and different technologies to keep his heart in shape as the years progressed. In 1999, he was fitted with his first defib and was able to go on his first holiday in 10 years, but when he reached 2004, the doctors gave him the news that it was no longer just one side of his heart that wasn’t working. Both sides were now struggling.

The next six years were spent being close to his wife, including assisting her in her work. As time went on, Steve really started to struggle. In 2010, doctors put him on the transplant list for a new heart.

“I got my first phone call for a heart in April 2010, but that heart went to someone else. I got another call in September of the same year, but tests on that heart showed that it couldn’t be donated after all. When we reached October, I told my wife that I may as well give up. I felt like I’d never get the heart I needed and realistically, thought I wouldn’t make it to Christmas. Then, at 1.10am on Tuesday the 10th of November, I got my call. When I asked the doctor how many others were in line for this heart, he answered, just you Steve. I couldn’t believe it,” he said.

Steve’s surgery was successful, and, by Christmas, he was home with his wife and his new heart. After two years of rehab, Steve was back in the saddle. Since then, he has raced in nine cycling events internationally, and won! He is currently European Road Race Champion in his age category at the European Transplant Games.

On Saturday, Steve will captain a cycle from Glasgow to The Kelpies as part of the Race for Recipients, an event created to raise awareness for Organ and Tissue Donation Week.

Steve’s message to everyone this Organ and Tissue Donation Week is this:

“If you want to be a hero, have the organ and tissue donation conversation with your family. My biggest hero is the man who gave me his heart, and my thanks go to his family for speaking on his behalf and enabling that to happen. Without him and them, I wouldn’t be here today,” he said.

Throughout the week, people are being reminded of the choices they have under Scotland’s opt out system of organ and tissue donation in a bid to increase registrations and encourage them not to leave their loved ones in doubt.

People in Scotland can choose to be a donor, or to opt out. If people aged 16 and over choose to do nothing, it is assumed they agree to be a donor if they die in circumstances where donation is possible, unless they are in a group for whom the opt out system does not apply, or it would be against their views.

Tony McGeown, Specialist Nurse – Organ Donation at NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde said: “We’re encouraging everyone to think about organ and tissue donation this week and record that decision, whatever it may be, on the NHS Organ and Tissue Donor Register.

“Only around one per cent of people die in a way that makes organ donation possible, which means every opportunity for donation is precious. Help make this week count, and don’t leave your loved ones in doubt,” he said.

People can register their donation decision and find out more at or by calling 0300 123 2323.

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