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article imageHappy Ending to the Story of the Girl with Two Hearts

By Chris Dade     Jul 14, 2009 in Health
Hannah Clarke from Mountain Ash in South Wales was just approaching her first birthday when her parents had to rush her to hospital because, as it was to transpire, her heart did not have the strength to pump the blood around her body.
At the age of two, and faced with no alternative if she was to live, Hannah found herself on the operating table receiving a new heart. But as the Independent reports Hannah's heart was not removed to accommodate her new organ, rather it was left in place in the hope that it could "rest and rebuild inside her body".
Despite the success of the transplant itself, Hannah's new heart had formerly belonged to a five month old girl, years of struggle lay ahead. Each day she would have to take 17 different drugs. As a consequence of taking those drugs, which suppressed her immune system, she had to spend weeks and months in hospital each year fighting off the infections and diseases to which she was constantly vulnerable.
Hannah faced chemotherapy sessions to tackle a cancer she had developed that is common in the recipients of organ transplants and at one stage she had to be put on a ventilator as the functioning of her windpipe came under threat from a cancerous growth. So bad was Hannah's condition at one time that her parents Paul and Liz, as the Daily Mail relates, were faced with the prospect that their daughter only had twelve hours to live.
Then, in November 2005, came the terrible news that Hannah's body was beginning to reject her transplant.
Eminent surgeon Sir Magdi Yacoub, the man who had overseen the original transplant operation on Hannah back in 1995, agreed to come out of retirement to oversee a fresh operation to remove the heart that was being rejected. The "Reverse Transplant" was performed early in 2006 at the world renowned Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children in the center of London and the impact on Hannah's life was immediate.
For nearly eleven years Hannah had carried two hearts around in her body but now, back again to just the one that she was born with, life took on a whole meaning. Within days she was back at home in Wales, no longer dependent on the daily cocktail of drugs and with a heart, once too feeble to keep her alive, that was happily performing the task for which it was intended. It had indeed "rested and rebuilt itself".
Now, three and a half years after the second of her life-changing experiences, sixteen year old Hannah and her very proud parents are telling more of not just what it is that they have been through but what life for Hannah is like today.
Having just completed her GCSEs Hannah is now working part-time at kennels near her home and has plans to go in to child care. And, in marked contrast to the long periods she spent in hospital when she was younger, she can now be found enjoying swimming and running on a regular basis.
Mother Liz tells of the sheer joy life now holds for her, her husband and her incredibly brave daughter:We're just proud. She doesn't think about tomorrow - she just thinks about today. She gets up every morning smiling
Likewise father Paul, who told of how they could never allow themselves to give up hope of Hannah pulling through:Our life has been changed from a normal life to upside down and now we've got it back again. Hannah's life before the operation, when she was 10 months old, was very traumatic. She was going from one extreme to the other. She needed a donor heart so badly, it was just like a roller-coaster ride. It was very worrying and stressful but we just kept on and made her fight for it. We would tell her 'Come on Hannah, you can't give up, you've got to keep going'. And here she is today
Only 1.2 out of every 100,000 children born suffer from cardiomyopathy, as Hannah did, but her story must surely give renewed hope to those parents and children now going through the agony that her family went through.
And Liz Clarke has never forgotten the parents whose own sad loss would eventually lead to her family's future happiness:I would just like to say a big thank you to the donor because they lost a child but we gained a child. I could have lost my daughter but they gave me my daughter back
More about Heart transplant, Britain, Great ormond street