Heart research charity’s milestone

David Watson with the Aspire heart valve he developed at Vascotek Ltd
David Watson with the Aspire heart valve he developed at Vascotek Ltd
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This weekend a special ball is being held to mark 45 years of a heart research charity set up by a Leeds surgeon. Catherine Scott reports.

It has already been a busy year for David Watson.

Not only did the retired heart surgeon receive an MBE in the Queen’s New Year’s Honours for his services to cardiothoracic surgery, he is also busy celebrating the 45th birthday of the charity he founded.

A special ball is being held on Saturday to mark the anniversary, but Mr Watson won’t be able to attend as he has a prior engagement.

“I have to go to Buckingham Palace to meet the Queen and receive my MBE,” he says.

Heart Research UK, originally known as The National Heart Research Fund, was founded by Mr Watson, who was a heart surgeon at the Leeds General Infirmary, in 1967.

At a time when cardiac surgery carried serious risks, the mortality rate was high and little heart research was being done in the UK.

Mr Watson realised that patients were dying unnecessarily because of lack of research in heat disease, especially surgical techniques.

He was also tired of telling heart patients there was nothing he could do to help them. He wanted to be able to do more.

“Heart surgery was so dangerous at that time that the outcome was not good at all. It was devastating for the families of the patients and also for the surgeons.”

The charity was started after a published appeal, and Mr Watson went on to establish the country’s first heart research unit at Killingbeck.

In 1979 HRUK funded six of the first eight successful UK heart transplants carried out by Sir Terence English at Papworth Hospital, Cambridge.

This eventually led to heart transplants becoming available on the NHS.

In the ‘70s Mr Watson also helped in the advancement, and development of heart valves.

He and his team invented the Killingbeck Valve, an artificial heart valve which is still in use after more than 30 years.

The present-day valve is more or less the same as the one he developed and has proved to be the most durable.

“I am very proud of what we have achieved, particularly the heart valve,” says Mr Watson, who is still a trustee of the charity he founded.

“But the work still goes on. I retired some 25 years ago and since then huge strides have been made, but it has taken a lot of hard work from a lot of people.”

HRUK funded the first-ever artificial heart pump in this country, which was implanted in Peter Houghton in 2000.

He is now the longest-surviving person with an artificial heart.

The charity currently funds over £4.1m of research projects at 23 hospitals and universities across the UK, funding over £1,060,000 last year alone.

In addition, over £1.2m has been awarded over the last 11 years to community-based lifestyle projects that aim to prevent or reduce the risks of heart disease in all sectors of the community.

Mr Watson said prevention and intervention was also becoming a large part of the charity’s work.

“Heart surgery has become a lot safer but we are also looking at ways of preventing heart disease in the first place.

“Surgical techniques are improving and progressing all the time and it is important that continues.”

‘Love your heart’ ball

Heart Research UK is celebrating its 45th Anniversary with the ‘Love your Heart Ball’ on Saturday at Wetherby Racecourse. This unique event was made possible by the generosity of CGC Event Caterers, through its charity arm CGC Event Aid.

An appeal ran in the Yorkshire Post asking charities to put themselves forward. HRUK was chosen. On the evening awards will be presented to; the most valued volunteer, exceptional fundraiser, outstanding researcher and the most outstanding community project.

Visit www.heartresearch.org.uk for more details.