Stephen’s heartwarming story: Transplant patient urges others to donate organs 25 years after lifesaving operation

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A Sheffield man who thought he would be dead by 1995 is celebrating 25 years since his life-saving heart transplant.

But thanks to the extraordinary surgery at the Northern General Hospital, Stephen has gone on to live a normal life with his treasured family – including the son he never thought he would be able to have.

Stephen Bletcher who had a heart transplant 25 years ago and wants to encourage people to sign up for orgam donation

Stephen Bletcher who had a heart transplant 25 years ago and wants to encourage people to sign up for orgam donation

The Hillsborough man first began to feel unwell and breathless during his school holidays aged 15 and was taken to hospital.

Tests showed his heart had become enlarged due to fluid retention or, as he described it: “My heart was knackered.”

He said: “It was quite a shock. I was fortunate, though; in some cases people die waiting for an organ but my wait was quite short.”

Just weeks later, Stephen had the lifesaving surgery at the Northern General Hospital.

Stephen Bletcher who had a heart transplant 25 years ago and wants to encourage people to sign up for orgam donation

Stephen Bletcher who had a heart transplant 25 years ago and wants to encourage people to sign up for orgam donation

Despite a few traumas along the way – including a devastating bowel cancer diagnosis – he is now marking his quarter-century milestone by urging others to sign up to the organ donor register to give someone else a new lease of life.

He said: “I’ve had a normal life – I’ve got a wife, kid, house and a job.

“To say I’m grateful just doesn’t cover it, which is why people need to sign up. You could save someone’s life.”

Due to his chemotherapy treatment, Stephen feared he may never have children – but ten years after the treatment ended his wife Rosemary, now 36, gave birth to their son Daniel, now eight.

The 40-year-old said: “Having kids is one of the best things you can do with your life. I didn’t think it would ever be on the cards.”

Stephen’s road to recovery has been a long one. After his transplant, he missed large chunks of school and had to re-sit his GCSE examinations.

He said: “The first year afterwards was pretty rough. I kept getting infections, my immune system was attacking itself.

“It has not all been plain sailing, but life is generally a roller coaster.”

In 1997, Stephen was diagnosed with bowel cancer, caused by the immunosuppression drugs he has to take every day.

He had chemotherapy and two operations.

And then in 2013, he was diagnosed with a heart flutter and had to undergo yet more surgery.

Stephen, who works as an internet order picker at Tesco Extra on Savile Street, said: “I had to take a bit of time off work which was a bit debilitating. I was getting very tired and breathless.”

He says his condition is always in the back of his mind but he doesn’t worry too much about it.

“You can’t do anything about it – when your time is up, it’s up. There is no point in worrying about it,” he said.

Stephen said is extremely grateful for the care and treatment he has received in the city.

He said: “The Northern General and Royal Hallamshire between them have patched me up and sent me on my way. I can’t sing their praises enough.”

Last year, the number of people donating organs in the UK fell for the first time in 11 years.

There are around 226 people waiting for an organ in South Yorkshire and 11 people died in the last year while on the transplant list.

Stephen said: “There have been medical advances every year but we still need people to donate.

“I would encourage everyone to sign up as an organ donor. I know it is such an emotive issue but it has literally given me a life.

“I would have been dead by 1995 and here I am, 40 and still OK.”

Register to donate your organs at www.organdonation.nhs.uk