Organ recipient puts transplant scar in frame for charity

Kate Ball, 11 years after her operation
Kate Ball, 11 years after her operation
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IT was during a Christmas shopping trip in Edinburgh with her mum that Kate Smail first realised something wasn’t right. Visibly out of breath after climbing Waverley Steps, the active 19-year-old didn’t feel herself.

Just a month later, she was given the devastating news that she was suffering from dilated cardiomyopathy – an enlarged heart. She needed a heart transplant – and fast.

Now, 11 years on, Kate is set to pose alongside husband Chris Ball for world-famous photographer Rankin, pictured below, in London today.

The photoshoot is for National Transplant Week, as part of a national poster ad campaign by UK charity Live Life Then Give Life – of which Kate is an advocate – to raise awareness of organ donation.

The 30-year-old, who lives in Marchmont and whose surname is now Ball, will reveal the 12-inch scar running down her chest as a result of the five-hour life-saving operation at the Freeman Hospital in Newcastle in May 2001.

Kate and Chris will be among a number of couples being photographed where one or both has undergone an organ transplant.

Kate, a freelance journalist, said: “Normally I hate having my photograph taken but if it’s Rankin and the hair and make-up team’s there, it is as good as it’s going to get.

“There will be lots of other transplant people down there too – heart, lung and kidney. It will be couples where one or both have been affected.

“I got a phone call from the charity a couple of weeks ago asking if I would get involved and I jumped at the chance, but my husband took a bit more ­persuasion.”

Following Kate’s festive shopping trip in December 2000, she felt increasingly tired and out of breath.

She said: “Just after new year 2001, I was bedridden and coughing up all this foam which turns out was fluid in my lungs. I was really not well.”

Kate was diagnosed with dilated cardiomyopathy and heart, lung and liver failure in January 2001 and was initially placed on a course of medication, before being rushed to the top of the heart transplant waiting list in May of that year, by which point she had developed pneumonia in one of her lungs. She spent just eight days on the active waiting list.

“I only got the transplant so quickly because I had deteriorated to a point that doctors had given me 24 to 48 hours to live,” she said.

“I’ve been absolutely fine since the transplant. I’ve had a couple of wee setbacks but generally my health has been absolutely brilliant.”

She added: “National Transplant Week is a great time to learn more about organ donation and talk to your family about your wishes.”

A spokeswoman for Live Life Then Give Life added: “We feel very excited and lucky that Rankin has come on board to do this. We are extremely grateful to have such a famous photographer.”


THE first heart transplant took place in 1967 on Louis Washkansky at the Groote Schuur Hospital in Cape Town, South Africa.

The procedure is performed around 130 times a year in the UK, but only around seven in every ten people on the waiting list undergo the surgery.

The operation takes between four and six hours, with about 80 per cent of patients living for at least three years after their operation, while around 70 per cent live for over five years and around half living for over ten years.

At the time of his death on August 10, 2009, American Tony Huesman was the world’s longest living heart transplant recipient, having survived for 31 years.

Once recovered from surgery, patients can normally return to a wide range of activities including driving, holidays and physical activity.