Staff and patients came together on Friday during ‘an incredible and emotional’ celebration to mark the 2,000th liver transplant at the Royal Free London (RFL).

Staff reflected on the achievements of the liver service and patients shared their personal stories during a day to remember at the Emirates Stadium in north London, home of Arsenal football club. 

David Edgell, the 2,000th patient, was there to congratulate the team and he was joined by patients – some who had received their transplants many years ago. 

The liver transplant service began at the Royal Free Hospital in 1988 and each year the number of liver transplants has continued to steadily increase, thanks to improvements in the referral process, as well as technology.

Lyn Lenaghan, 68, and her husband Andy, 74, from Hayling Island, near Portsmouth, said it felt amazing to come back and celebrate with the team who cared for Lyn last year.

Lyn said: “When I had my liver transplant I’d been poorly for 10 years and very unwell for the last five years. Unfortunately because I had a raised temperature I wasn’t able to have the first liver I was scheduled for. It was a worrying time and thank goodness I got a further opportunity to have a transplant. 

Andy added: “It was an awful time. We didn’t think that Lyn would see another Christmas. But since her transplant Lyn in May 2018 she has also been able to have knee replacement surgery. She’s my bionic woman!  We are now planning our first holiday for years. It’s given the whole family our lives back.”

Lyn said: “Seeing all the staff again was just amazing. It felt like one big family and it was wonderful to chat to people who had been through the same thing and it was reassuring that so many of them had had their new livers for many years!”

Anna Bruck, 56, from Edgware, north London, said: “I had autoimmune hepatitis and although I’d had it for quite some time I was managing it. But I went downhill fast and from being put on the list to having my transplant took just four weeks.

“Once I’d recovered from the operation it was so wonderful to feel well again. It felt very emotional to see friends again I’d made on the ward who were also having or recovering from transplants. We were there for each other offering support through the lows and the laughter and it was fantastic to see people with their make-up on and all dressed up, instead of in our pink gowns and red socks!

“One thing that struck me from chatting to others on the day was that none of us have wasted a minute of our lives since our transplants. We just appreciate every single moment of feeling how we feel now.”

Debbie Sanders, RFL’s group chief nurse, said: “It was an incredible day, full of emotion. I met a patient I remembered looking after in intensive care 23 years ago after her transplant.”  

Katie Quist, lead liver transplant co-ordinator, said: “The 2,000 organ donors and their families were in our thoughts throughout the day, we know that without their selfless donation none of the transplants would have been possible. It was amazing to see so many of our patients and I was so proud of the full lives they are leading and the incredible achievements they have made post transplant. The recipients and their families make all the hard work so worthwhile and the donors and their families are the true heroes of our service.”

Doug Thorburn, consultant hepatologist and clinical director for liver transplantation, hepatology and hepato-pacreato-biliary medicine and surgery, said: “It was a fantastic event and first and foremost I wanted us to pay tribute the generosity of organ donors and their families without whom none of this would be possible. It was also wonderful to be able to show our appreciation and gratitude to all the staff across the trust, past and present, who made this achievement possible.”

Since Dave Edgell had the 2,000 transplant back in December 2018 there have been a further 70 liver transplants at the Royal Free Hospital – averaging nearly three a week.

The event was funded by the liver service’s charity.