During the inquest of George Green – who died from a recognised complication after a heart transplant – coroner Robert Hunter choked back tears as doctors giving evidence revealed only 120 hearts are donated a year in the UK.
The amount of people who need a heart transplant is approximately 16,000 a year.
George, 19, of Sunnyside Villas, Castleton, died in April 2013 after developing a routine complication with his heart transplant.
He had just finished work in Hathersage when he died of a sudden heart attack. George had his transplant operation in 2000.
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Emotions at the inquest also ran high as doctors discussed how to tell young patients about transplant life-expectancy – which averages 12 years, but can cause death at any point in life.
Giving evidence on Tuesday, a medic who treated George, Dr Stephen Shaw, said: “Do you bring a patient’s world crashing down around them by saying there’s a limited chance of survival after transplant? Or do you say everything is going fine? It’s such a hard dilemma we face as doctors.”
In his conclusion, Dr Hunter said: “It’s a terrible position for children and their families. If you tell (the prospects of survival) to a young transplant patient you are effectively giving them a death sentence.”
Chesterfield Coroner’s Court heard that the only way to treat the complication which caused George’s death – Transplant Vasculopathy – was a new transplant. But as the number of critically ill people in desperate need of a new heart is so high, it is rare that a patient would get two transplants.
In George’s case, he was simply not ill enough to qualify for another heart, despite a deterioration in his condition, the inquest heard.
It is extremely rare for a coroner to become emotionally involved in proceedings, which highlights the desperation of the plea.
Dr Hunter said: “120 hearts a year for the whole of the UK is not nearly enough. I know transplant organisations are trying to promote it and persuade people to donate more, but it is a big ask to get people to donate organs... I think there needs to be a proper public debate, out in the open, because 120 hearts a year is not enough.”
He added: “I was really quite moved by the evidence. I could see that (Dr Shaw), not only with George but every patient, is truly affected. I have never seen that in a doctor giving evidence before.
“It struck me and I don’t think it should go without being noticed.”