Bert Janssen, 57 years old, and his wife Petra pose in their house in Herkenbosch, Netherlands February 29, 2024 Image Credit: Reuters

Herkenbosch: Four decades after being diagnosed with a serious heart condition and given just six months to live, Bert Janssen has set a Guinness World Record as the longest-surviving transplant patient.

"I want to be an example for people," said the Dutchman, who was 17 when he was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy, a heart muscle disease which makes it harder for the heart to pump blood around the body.

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He says he is proof that living a long time with a heart transplant is possible.

In 1984, The Netherlands had yet to perform its first heart transplantation, so cardiologist Albert Mattart referred the teenager to Harefield Hospital in England.

Janssen underwent transplant surgery in June that year after a heart became available following a tragic car crash in which two young adults died.

107th transplant
Bert Janssen's operation was the 107th transplant at Harefield Hospital, according to BBC.
The first was carried out by Sir Magdi in 1980 and the centre has since completed thousands of transplants, with 54 taking place in 2022-23.
Dr Fernando Riesgo Gil, consultant cardiologist and lead of the heart transplantation service at Harefield Hospital, said: “It is fantastic news to hear that one of our early Harefield transplant patients continues to live such a full and happy life so long after his transplant.”
According to data on the NHS Blood and Transplant website, there were 7,314 adults on the active transplant waiting list in the UK as of last week, along with 248 patients under the age of 18.
Of the total, 334 are waiting for hearts, the BBC report said.

The life-saving operation was carried out by transplant pioneer Magdi Yacoub.

"I consider that day more important than my birthday," said Janssen, who is now 57, married with two sons and a keen glider pilot.

"I've never really looked this far ahead." While he is fit and healthy, his heart medication causes side effects and in recent years he has had to slow down.

"I still do more or less what I want (but) at a different pace," he said.

Janssen said after the operation, he was able to quickly “return to a good quality of life”.

The married father of two, who is a keen glider pilot, told BBC it felt like an “honour” to have reached the record-breaking milestone.

Average life expectancy

“I could never imagine I would come this far,” he said.

“What I think is most important is that I set a benchmark for others. It is now officially proved that it is possible to come this far while having a donor heart.

“I assume the marker will yet move quite a bit further and I will be pleased if others will break my record in due course.”

The average life expectancy for heart patients after a transplant is 16 years, according to Janssen's current cardiologist, Casper Eurlings.

Guinness World Records officially recognised Janssen's achievement of living for 39 years and 100 days after receiving his transplant.

The previous record was 34 years and 359 days set by Canadian Harold Sokyrka in 2021, according to Guinness.

Transplant patients "need to maintain a healthy lifestyle and be active. That's what Mr Janssen did," Earlings said.

Yacoub has since thanked Janssen for his achievements and dedication to global health.

"But it's really me who should be thanking him," Janssen said.