The family of a courageous teenager who underwent a life-saving heart transplant were today praying for him to pull through a last ditch operation.
It was feared brave Joe Higgins, 18, had just months to live as he waited for a new heart after being diagnosed with cardiomyopathy earlier this year - a condition which sees the heart weaken as the muscle becomes enlarged.
The keen BMXer, from Linderbreck Lane, Poulton, spent weeks on the waiting list for surgery and was put on the urgent donor transplant list, but knew that he could be on the list a long time, and that without it he could have just months left.
But the family received the news they were desperate for when a match was found for him on Friday - the same day schoolmates from Baines High School, Poulton, where Joe was a pupil, celebrated ‘Joe’s Day’, each donning an item of red and paying sponsor money to support Wythenshawe Hospital, where he is being treated.
He underwent a complex operation lasting more than four hours the same day.
But after initially being described as “critical” but “stable”, he was rushed back into theatre earlier this week following complications and today remains in a critical condition.
His family today told The Gazette their “prayers were answered” by the “miracle” transplant and praised the outpouring of support that has flooded in from well-wishers.
And they now believe that same love and support will pull him through his latest ordeal.
Sister Chessie, 23, speaking from Joe’s hospital bedside, said: “It seemed a miracle that they found a heart for Joe on ‘Joe’s Day’, it was almost like everything had reached a climax and our prayers had been answered.
“The positive energy he received from this lifted him incredibly.”
News of the match was a poignant moment for his family, parents Chris and Marie and older sister Gaby, 24, as it came one month on from being put on the urgent donor transplant list, on September 24.
Chessie added: “They found my brother a heart on Joe’s Day, it just shows the power of positive thoughts and prayers.”
Joe underwent an operation lasting more than four hours, which saw the teen have his chest opened before he was hooked up to a heart and lung bypass machine to keep his blood pumping during the transplant.
On Sunday doctors warned Joe’s family he was “critical” but “stable” as they fitted a machine to act like a healthy heart for him, allowing time for the new heart to settle in and adapt to his body.
But on Monday morning the teen was taken back into surgery in a “critical” condition and medics warned his family they would have to continue to take things “hour by hour”.
Despite the setback, his sister believes “overwhelming” messages of support will help to “will him through”.
After being put on the urgent transplant list in late September, he underwent heart bypass surgery three weeks later.
Then he suffered full organ failure and was forced into gruelling rehabilitation to rebuild his strength in anticipation of the surgery.
Today he remains in a critical condition at Wythenshawe Hospital, and is “fighting for his life”, but his family say they know medics are “working wonders”.
The teen, who had been due to start work with Victrex plc in Thornton, had kept well-wishers updated on his progress through social networking sites Instagram and Facebook, posting startling images of himself hooked up to medical equipment and regularly thanking people for their support, as well as encouraging people to sign up to be organ donors.
He also created a short film, charting his experiences so far, which has been viewed by more than 50,000 people.
Joe messaged well-wishers online ahead of the operation on Friday, saying: “They have found me a heart and it’s a match! Going down for the operation now, going to have to fight to get through this, see you all on the other side, thanks so much for everything, I couldn’t have asked for more.”
Dr David Roberts, consultant cardiologist at the Lancashire Cardiac Centre in Blackpool, said: “There are various types of cardiomyopathy. In Joe’s case the ability to contract and relax the heart was impaired.
“He had been unwell for many months but being young had coped with it.
“He was put on the transplant list and was taken to the super regional centre at Manchester. Joe got his transplant quite quickly. The issues are it is a huge operation and there is a potential for rejection.
“He will be on anti-rejection drugs - this is an important next step. I would have thought all being well he could be out in a month.
“I want to express my thanks to South Manchester Care for taking Joe so quick and express to everyone the importance of carrying a donor card.”
Last year there were just 145 heart transplants in the UK, according to the British Heart Foundation, and only eight in 10 people get the heart transplant they require.
Medics say those on the transplant waiting list can wait for more than a year.
Most patients recover quickly from a transplant and are able to leave hospital around four weeks later, though every case is different.
On average, three people die every day while waiting for a transplant.
To sign up to the NHS organ donor register, visit: www.organdonation.nhs.uk