A teenage transplant patient has told how her life was saved by a donor liver which was plucked from the burning wreckage of a crashed plane.
Frail Kate Trevener, 18, was just hours from death with acute liver failure when a suitable donor organ was found in Northern Ireland.
It was packaged in a protective box and flown to Birmingham Airport – but the private Cessna crashed on landing and exploded into a fireball.
Dramatic pictures of the burnt-out plane made headlines around the world after the crash on November 19 last year. Both the pilot and co-pilot survived the crash.
Amazingly, rescue workers found the organ in ”pristine” condition packed inside the charred red ice box.
The container was strapped to a motorbike and police closed major roads during rush hour as it was raced to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham.
And just 45 minutes after the plane crashed the liver was successfully transplanted into Kate.
Yesterday the teenager, from Castle Bromwich, West Mids., spoke of the moment she was told of the dramatic liver transplant.
She said: ”I was sitting up in bed and my mum was telling me about the crash and I just couldn’t believe what I was being told.
”It makes me so incredibly grateful to still be here today.
”There’s one thing to be told you’re going to die if you don’t get a new liver but to get one which had just been in a plane crash blows my mind.
”I can’t take it all in because at the time I had no idea what was going on and was sedated.
”When I came round the doctors told me the liver had been in a plane crash but they were still able to perform the operation – it was just amazing.”
Kate was rushed to hospital last October after she collapsed at home.
Doctors took blood tests and told Kate – who has never drank booze in her life – that she had the liver of a chronic alcoholic and would die without a transplant.
She was placed at the top of the super-urgent list – the highest priority for transplant patients in the country – and told she would die within 72 hours unless a suitable donor was found.
When a suitable donor organ was found a private plane was sent to Northern Ireland to collect it but the aircraft crashed in thick fog at Birmingham Airport.
It took three surgeons four hours to transplant the liver into Kate, and within hours she was walking around the ward with the help of nurses.
Simon Bramhall, consultant liver surgeon who carried out the operation at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, said he was ”astonished” the organ survived the crash.
He said: ”I was told the plane carrying the liver had crashed and I just thought to myself ‘well that’s that’.
”I was very sceptical the liver would still be transplantable but it was rushed over to me to inspect.
”I was astonished because the box it was in was badly damaged and covered in soot and petrol and foam but inside the liver was pristine.
”It was still packed in ice and the seals holding it in place were not damaged so I decided we could go ahead with the surgery.
”The operation after that was quite straight forward. It is incredible considering how it came to be here.”
But eight days later Kate was dealt a devastating blow when the liver suffered a massive hameorrhagic necrosis (MHN) – meaning it died in her body.
It is so rare MHN only happens to around eight transplant patients in Britain a year.
Tests are still being carried out into the liver to discover if the crash caused the organ to fail.
Kate was again placed on top of the super-urgent transplant list but doctors warned her parents, Tracey and Mike, to prepare for the worst.
The couple, who also have eight-month-old daughter Annabel, were even advised to ”say their goodbyes” to Kate.
Dad Mike, 45, a lorry driver, said: ”It was a hell of a shock for everyone.
”The doctors came and told us she needed another liver because the other one had literally died inside her.
”Her body didn’t reject the liver, it just died which is incredibly rare but the doctors don’t think the plane crash had anything to do with it.
”We were told to say our goodbyes and warned that the chances of getting another suitable donor were very slim.
”We honestly thought that was it. We were all deeply upset.”
But another donor was found and Kate prepared to go under the knife on November 27.
Unbelievably, her second life-saving op was also close to being cancelled after the plane carrying the liver from Dundee in Scotland had problems taking off.
Mike said: ”Apparently the weather was so bad in Scotland the plane was delayed while snow ploughs cleared the runway and the pilots de-iced the windows.
”We were trying to stay positive but it seemed like everything was against us.”
But the plane touched down just four hours behind schedule and Kate received the liver.
Five weeks after receiving her second liver Kate is expected to make a full recovery and is looking forward to going back to studying for a qualification in child care.
Mum Tracey, 39, an art worker, said: ”When we talk to friends and relatives now about what happened they think we’re making it up.
”It was the worst rollercoaster ride ever but we’re so happy and relieved that Kate is now on the up and is looking better each day.”
Kate is urging more people to volunteer as organ donors and will raise money for research into liver donation as part of the Queen Elizabeth Hospital Birmingham charity.
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