Magazine article The Spectator

Radio: Kate Chisholm

Magazine article The Spectator

Radio: Kate Chisholm

Article excerpt

If you're in the least bit squeamish you'd better stop reading now. What follows is not for those who blanch at Casualty and come over all faint at the sight of blood. I'm told it's a first for radio -- following an operation in real time and going right inside the experience.

It began at breakfast time on Tuesday on Radio Five Live as we listened to Stephen, a patient at Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham. He'd woken up at 3 a.m. to hear one of the nurses clip-clopping down the corridor towards him. She'd come to tell him that at last they'd found a heart which they hoped would be a good match, and the operation which he had been waiting for to save his life would take place in just a few hours. How did he feel about it?

Heart Transplant Day then proceeded to give us brief updates throughout the day as Stephen underwent the massive eight-hour operation. Not that this was 'live' radio. That would have been too risky. But knowing it was recorded did not take away from the impact of hearing just exactly what Stephen (or rather his inert body) was going through, tube by tube, suture by suture.

'The heart has just been taken out,' said Chris Warburton, the news reporter with a cast-iron stomach. 'Here it is on a table in a plastic bowl. It's quite a size,' he added, 'bigger than I would have thought ...and it's just made a movement. Right there. Completely independently from Stephen's body.' I'm feeling nauseous just writing about it.

'Let me describe the colours of it,' he carried on, relentlessly. 'It's not red, it's yellowing, with purple veins running through it ... It's much cleaner than you might imagine.'

Meanwhile Stephen was lying on the operating table with all the machines attached to him registering a flat line. No heartbeat. No vital signs. He was a body without a heart, kept alive by technology -- and the skill of the operating team.

Later on, after the new heart had been inserted, the anaesthetist told us she wanted to make sure Stephen had 'a smooth landing' as he came off all the machines and began relying on his new organ. She was closest to the patient, right by his head, but told us, 'I have to say I don't think of it as this person. I think about getting the numbers right.'

Husain Husaini, the producer, told Radio Times , 'You couldn't do that kind of programming on TV.' It was too real, too immediate, too insightful. 'Stephen's heart transplant was progressing while most people were having a normal working day. …

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