'The operation changed my whole life' 

When Gordon Bridewell was rushed from the West Country to London on New Year's Eve 1975 to undergo a pioneering liver transplant, he was also travelling into the record books. 

For Gordon, now 59, is the UK's longest surviving liver transplant patient and one of the world's top 10 longest living liver transplant recipients.

It started with a minor injury during a football match. "A tiny lump appeared on my leg and it ached when I walked. I was keen on sport, so I went to my GP," says Gordon.

After an operation to remove it, Gordon started having blackouts and hallucinations. One theory was that his liver had not filtered out the anaesthetic. Before he could return to work, his GP recommended a precautionary visit to King's College Hospital in London for further tests.

"At King's, they did about 20 to 30 tests. I wondered what I was doing there, I felt fine. Then the consultant told me what I had – a tumour on my liver."

The tumour was removed, but tests revealed a second one, which was inoperable. The specialists suggested a liver transplant.

"I was shocked. I still hadn't recovered from the news about the second tumour. I knew kidney transplants were being done, but I'd not heard about liver transplants, except as a last resort, and mostly for elderly people."

"It was a waiting game – I had four false alarms, arriving in London to find that the organs weren't compatible." Enquiries were extended to the rest of Europe to find a suitable match.

In December 1975, Gordon was called for another potential transplant. The 12-hour operation was led by Roy Calne (now Professor Sir Roy Calne), who performed the first liver transplant in Europe in 1968. Waking up immobile and attached to a host of tubes, Gordon was determined to get back on his feet, despite 30 external stitches and even more internal ones. He has nothing but praise for the support and skill of the team involved in his transplant.

He recovered well and returned to work after 13 months: "Two hours a day with a pocketful of tablets – those hours were like a lifetime," he says. "I still had a tube attached to me to take out bile until the new liver functioned properly. I had to empty it two or three times a day."

Gordon soon started doing sports again. In 1980, he trained for the Ross-on-Wye 100-mile raft race and became the first transplant patient in the UK to compete in it. Over the years, he has also counselled people from around the world to help them prepare for their liver transplant.

Gordon is grateful to his donor and proud to be the longest surviving liver transplant patient in the UK: "It makes me honoured and privileged. Every New Year's Eve it all floods back and I always celebrate. I'm so glad to be here."

"The operation changed my whole life – I'd only been given five months when the suitable liver became available. I talk to many people about becoming a donor and ask them what if your son or daughter needed an organ transplant?"

Gordon thinks his sense of humour has played a part in helping him keep well, but it would take a lot to beat his first full meal after his operation: "I was really looking forward to it and the nurse lifted the lid and gasped 'I can't give you this!' It was liver and onions!"

Page last reviewed: 12/01/2015

Next review due: 01/01/2018