A FORMER Larne man has become the first person from Northern Ireland to undergo a pioneering double transplant, which he claims has given him his life back.
Just last year, John Hamilton was at death’s door after suffering intestinal failure, leaving him so ill he had to be fed through a bag and so weak he was almost bedridden.
But now, the 59-year-old is able to eat and drink what he wants and even go for long walks, after recovering from an 18-hour operation to replace his small intestine and abdominal wall.
John told the Times that his life has been transformed by the procedure, and he is now calling on more people to join the organ donors register to help save others like him.
“It is a real miracle; I have been given the gift of life,” he added.
John, who is originally from Upper Waterloo Road in the town, has lived in Lossiemouth, Scotland for almost 40 years.
He was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease – an inflammatory bowel condition – in 1999, and his health continued to deteriorate until he had to retire on medical grounds from his job as a health and safety advisor with BP.
Having subsequently undergone a series of operations to cut away parts of his bowel, John was eventually left with only a couple of feet of his small intestine.
When the last part of his bowel failed, he developed a fistula – a hole in his abdominal wall – which left him extremely weak and barely able to walk.
“I couldn’t eat anything, and was on TPN (total parenteral nutrition), being fed through a bag for up to 14 hours a day. It kept me alive, but it was no life at all and I was told there was nothing that could be done for me,” he added.
The future was looking bleak for John, but just when he thought all hope was lost, his life took a dramatic turn for the better.
Last October, a neighbour showed John a newspaper article about a man called Michael Seres, who had undergone a bowel transplant at the Churchill Hospital in Oxford and set up a blog about his experiences.
John got in touch with Michael and the team at the Oxford hospital, and to his delight discovered he was a suitable candidate for this life-saving operation.
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When the organs became available, a team of 17 health professionals worked in shift to transplant his new intestine and abdominal wall.
Afterwards, John was able to enjoy his first proper meal in more than a year – tea and toast.
And following weeks of recuperation, John returned home to Lossiemouth with his wife Anne, a trained nurse.
John must now take anti-rejection drugs and to travel to Oxford every three months for check-ups. Because the procedure is so new, there is not enough data to predict life expectancy.
But he is enjoying his much improved health, and when the Times contacted John on Monday, he had just returned home from a three-mile walk.
He said: “Before the transplant I could hardly get out of bed, so I am making the most of this precious gift I have been given. I don’t take anything for granted anymore. I feel great and now look forward to each day.”
John hopes his story will inspire more people to sign the organ donor register, and has given his backing to a proposed new organ donation system, which would mean people would have to opt out if they did not wish to donate their organs when they die.
He added: “While most people would accept a donated organ, too few have signed up to be donors themselves. When it comes to actually signing up, a lot of people see it as a big step and won’t go through with it, even if they agree with the idea of organ donation.
“By having an opt-out system, it would mean the decision would be taken out of peoples’ hands and they would not have to worry about it.
“I wouldn’t be where I am without organ donation, and I hope others can benefit as I have,” John concluded.