Meet the Clayhall woman, Salwa Hussein, who carries her heart in a backpack to remain alive

Salwa Hussein.
Salwa Hussein.

Salwa Hussein, a 39-year-old woman, has become the second-ever person in Britain to be given an artificial heart.

As a result of the life-changing operation, Selwa now effectively carries her heart in a backpack.

The lifesaving kit contains batteries, an electric motor and a pump which pushes air through tubes to power plastic chambers in her chest which pushes blood around her body.

It weighs seven kilograms and has to be carried around with Selwa wherever she goes.

She is only the second person in the UK to be able to leave the hospital with a total artificial heart.

The mother of two, from Clayhall, was taken to Harefield Hospital, in June with severe heart failure.

Her heart function was deteriorating so rapidly that doctors were forced to put her on an ECMO machine, a life-saving device which delivers oxygen from outside the body and maintains circulation.

Until 2016, Selwa had been free of any symptoms but doctors believe her heart failure was triggered by a condition called familial dilated cardiomyopathy, a genetic disease.

After falling ill, doctors deemed her too unwell to receive a heart transplant.

Instead, her heart was removed from her body and replaced with the artificial implant by surgeon Diana Garcia Saez on June 27.

She said: “Despite us increasing her medication, Selwa’s condition was getting worse very, very quickly.

“The only option to save her life was to implant a total artificial heart.”

Following the major operation, Selwa spent August learning how to walk, talk, eat and drink again on Harefield Hospital’s dedicated transplant ward, and building up muscle strength through physiotherapy.

She said: “All I remember from before the operation was crying to my sisters, and giving my final wishes to my family.

“I remember when I woke up, being told my heart had been taken out, and I was so disorientated I thought ‘what does this mean, have I died’?”

The operation was led by Mr Andre Simon, director of heart and lung transplantation and ventricular assist devices.

He said: “The operation went very well and Selwa’s recovery has been excellent.

“For us as a medical team, being able to use the total artificial heart gives us an option when all the others have been exhausted. “Without it, Selwa would not have survived.”

Selwa added: “I can’t thank the staff at Harefield enough: they have been absolutely amazing: everyone, the doctors and the nurses, but the physiotherapists are such experts, and the caterers, the cleaners, the healthcare assistants – they are all so positive for you, even when life felt very bleak.

“It is an incredible place.”

The mother-of-two needs someone who is trained on how the artificial heart works to be with her 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Her husband has been trained to use the device and Selwa hopes to be discharged home permanently once a full care package is in place.

She added: “Over Christmas, I could go shopping, visit my family and I cooked for the first time in months.

“The device is an absolute Godsend. To spend time with my family, to have some – even a little – normality back, is wonderful.”

Harefield Hospital is the only centre in the UK that uses the device as a treatment for patients with heart failure.

Selwa is on the heart transplant waiting list.

More than 6,000 people in the UK are currently waiting for a transplant and three people die waiting every day.

However, only 32 per cent of the UK population are registered as organ donors and the organisation wants to raise awareness of donation.


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