TWENTY one years ago, she made medical history as the first baby to survive a heart transplant. Today Kaylee Davidson knows just how special she is, not only to her family, but to the thousands of other transplant youngsters across the world she has given hope to.
Now a young woman and in the prime of her life, the 21-year-old admits that her day of celebration will be a day of remembrance, as she thinks of the family of the baby who died which allowed her to live.
Kaylee, of Houghton-le-Spring, Sunderland, was just five months old when she underwent the pioneering heart transplant at Newcastle’s Freeman Hospital at 2.30am on Tuesday, October 14, 1987.
She had been suffering from cardiomyopathy, and had spent six weeks in the hospital’s intensive care unit with parents Carol and Mark by her bedside.
She was the third baby in Britain to receive a new heart, but previous operations had not been successful. Today she has to take 12 tablets a day and will do so for the rest of her life. But speaking from her home, where she lives with mum Carol, 40, she said there is not a day that goes by without her thinking of the family and the baby that saved her life.
Although she has never met the parents of her donor, she admits that one day she would like to. “Without my donor, I wouldn’t be celebrating 21 years and that’s the reason why I am still alive,” she said.
“I just think that the baby is keeping me alive, but also I’m keeping her alive. We are both together as part of a team. When you think that it has been 21 years, I just can’t believe it, to be honest.
“It is a celebration but I will be thinking about the family as well. I think about them every day.”
A keen sportswoman, Kaylee has set her sights even further next year after being selected for the British squad to compete in the World Transplant Games in Australia.
Kaylee, who has now launched a fundraising drive to help cover the £2,000 cost, will compete in four track events, including the 100m. She added: “I’m really getting into my running so I’m trying to work really hard. I’m so excited I just can’t wait to go.” Kaylee and her family have built up a special bond with Lynn Holt, transplant co-ordinator at the Freeman Hospital, who was there on the night of the operation.
Since then the transplant programme has performed more than 1,450 heart and lung operations, 160 of which have been on babies and children. Kaylee’s mum Carol who married partner Steve Olley last year, now works as a children’s project manager for Transplant Sport UK.
She said: “It’s quite something to be seeing her 21 years later and remembering that night.
“I think obviously we have to remember it was a life-saving day for us, but for another family, it was a tragic day.
“The fact that they thought enough of saving the life of another child to offer their baby’s organs was incredible. It is such an altruistic gift.”
For previous stories about Kaylee, click the links below
Transplant operation made medical history
KAYLEE Davidson made medical history when she became the first baby to survive a heart transplant 21 years ago today.
Diagnosed with cardiomyopathy, she was seriously ill in intensive care for six weeks before the operation at Newcastle’s Freeman Hospital.
Following the six-hour operation, led by consultant surgeon Christopher McGregor, the youngster’s condition was reported in The Journal as "causing some concern". But in the days following she began to improve, despite her weighing just 5kgs. It was reported that Mr McGregor and cardio-anaesthetist David Heaviside worked for three days and two nights without leaving the hospital or taking a break.
Mr McGregor’s wife Diana was also giving birth to their fourth child, Mary, at the time of the operation at the city’s Princess Mary Hospital. He described the heart implanted in Kaylee as "about the size of a walnut".
Kaylee was able to return home to parents Carol, 22, and Mark, 24, on November 24.
Mr McGregor left the hospital to work at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, USA.