Opt-out system gave me new heart in three days

Caroline Woodrow, who used to live in Tring, had a heart transplant last year.
Caroline Woodrow, who used to live in Tring, had a heart transplant last year.

Former Tring schoolgirl Caroline Woodrow is backing the Gazette’s campaign urging people to sign up to the organ donor register and she’s got good reason to – last year she had a heart transplant.

In her own words, 44-year-old Caroline, who now lives in Paris where an ‘opt out’ system is used for organ donation, has shared her story in the hope of inspiring others to sign up to the UK register.



Although the ‘opt out’ system was voted in by politicians in Wales last month and is expected to come into force in 2015, it has not yet reached the rest of the UK.

In France, seriously ill Caroline – whose mum still lives in Tring’s Station Road – had to wait just three days for a suitable heart to be found for her after being placed on the waiting list.

Here is Caroline’s story:

In April last year I was lucky enough to be given a new heart, and it has transformed my life.

In 2010, at the age of 42, while staying with my boyfriend in Paris I was diagnosed with dilated cardiomypathy – a thickening of the left ventricle – and was immediately fitted with a defibrillator and put on a drug regime.

I was warned that if things didn’t improve I might need a heart transplant in three, five or even 10 years time.

In March 2012, as my condition started to worsen and everyday activities got harder and harder, that time came about much quicker than we expected.

I was again in Paris when all of a sudden I found myself waking up on the kitchen floor.

My defibrillator had gone off for the first time, and I had lost consciousness just before. I managed to call an ambulance and was rushed into hospital.

I was kept in for a few days, just to be monitored, but four days later, things went badly wrong.

I started suffering ‘cardiac electrical storms’, where the heart starts racing dangerously quickly, and each time the defibrillator would kick in and shock my heart back to a normal rhythm.

Most times I would lose consciousness just before the shock, but sometimes not, and it was extremely frightening and painful. Twice I was put into an artificial coma to avoid any more suffering.

Eventually the damage to my heart was too great, and it was only working at 10 pre cent capacity.

I was then told that the only option was a transplant. Even though I knew it might come, it was still quite a shock to hear this news, to such an extent that my defibrillator shocked me as they told me.

As the French have an ‘opt out’ system where everybody is assumed to be a donor, unless their family objects, I was moved straight to the top of the list and was found a new a heart within three days.

Not once did I doubt I wouldn’t make it through, and just a month later, after the most amazing care, I was discharged from hospital.

Obviously, it has not been an easy time, either for myself or my family, what with the regular hospital visits, biopsies, tests, more tests, and the mountain of pills to take each day – but all this pales into significance when I think of the alternative.

I truly believe I would not be here today if I had been in the UK.

Our system simply does not provide enough donors, which is why we should follow the Welsh lead and change our law to an opt out system. If we were all assumed to be a donor at 18 we could save so many more lives.

Anybody who, for whatever reason, objects to this – and I do believe everybody has the right to object – could then ‘opt out’ by registering this online.

Human beings are inherently lazy, always putting off until tomorrow what we could do today.

We know the majority of people would sign up, so take away that decision to make, and the number of donors would multiply immediately.

In the meantime, if you agree, I would implore everybody to sign up to be a donor.

If you had been put in my position, would you have said no to a second chance at life?

I suspect not – so why would you deny someone else that chance?

It takes just five minutes to sign up to the register – I did it myself years ago – or even simply have the conversation with a family member, so they are aware of your wishes. That conversation may also save your family the pain of having to make that decision at a very difficult time.

I would love to be able to thank the family of the person who generously followed the wishes of their loved one who saved mine and several other lives.

15 months on life is nearly back to normal. Hospital visits are down to once every four months and I have just had my first yearly health MOT and all the signs are good.

And to top it all off, my boyfriend and I got married in May, a year after my transplant and I am now planning a permanent move to start my ‘second life’ in France.