Cramlington toddler kept alive with mobile heart for two years finally gets transplant

A little girl who has lived at the Freeman Hospital for two years has finally been allowed home after having a heart transplant.

By Amanda Bourn
Thursday, 28th July 2022, 5:40 pm

Grace Westwood, who is thought to have endured one of the longest-ever waits on the urgent transplant list, made history in May last year when she became the first patient in the UK to be fitted with a mobile heart.

A Berlin heart Ventricular Assist Device (VAD) is an air-driven pump which takes over the function of the heart, and has kept the toddler alive.

The youngster, who is nearly three, was delighted to be able to go to the park for the first time, but it would still be months before her dad Darren got the call he and his wife Becci had been praying for.

Grace Westwood, two, is finally home after receiving a heart transplant.

Mr Westwood said : “One of the transplant co-ordinators said there was a match and I think for the first ten minutes it just didn’t sink in as Grace had been waiting for such a long time.

“We’ve always tried to stay really positive as a family and taken each day as it comes, but when that day finally came it just felt surreal.”

Darren immediately called Becci, who was equally stunned at first.

“When Daz rang it just didn’t seem real,” she said.

Grace Westwood admires her new bedroom.

"I think I was in shock as we’d been waiting so long for the news – it was an extraordinary day and I cried a lot.”

Grace’s complex transplant operation at the Freeman Hospital lasted 12 hours – which seemed like forever for her parents.

“It’s hard giving your little girl away to the surgeons, you just have to hope for the best, I remember us walking away and just starting crying,” said Darren.

“It would be 12 hours until we could see her again, but fortunately everything went well.”

The Westwoods prepare to leave hospital and take Grace home.

It has been a remarkable but difficult journey for Darren and Becci, who moved to Cramlington during the pandemic when Grace was transferred to Newcastle. Now, Grace is finally getting to go home with her big brother, Josh, and one of the first things they do will visit the beach.

However, always in the family’s mind is that someone has endured a personal tragedy and decided their child should be a donor.

Mrs Westwood said: “It’s really hard to put into words the gift that family has given us – they’ve lost a child, but given us so much.

"They’ve given us Grace’s life and I really hope they get a little bit of comfort knowing what they’ve done for us. Thank you just isn’t enough.

Becci, Josh, Grace and Darren Westwood.

Darren added: “Grace is like a different child and just to hold her with nothing attached is just amazing. Just to see her walking without being tethered to a machine is amazing.”

Consultant paediatric cardiologist Dr Abbas Khushnood said: “It’s very unique and rare where patients have to be on mechanical support device to keep the heart pumping for such a long period of time. Grace has been very lucky.”

“To see someone like Grace, who has had such a long journey, eventually getting a heart transplant just gives us more hope for younger children with heart failure to be able to get a transplant.”

Grace painting in the hospital playroom.
Grace and family in her room on the children's heart unit, at the Freeman Hospital.