Cops probe transplant patient’s death

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IOL  SS_Paul John Thesen0


Paul Thesen, the worlds longest-surviving heart transplant patient, has died in mysterious circumstances. File photo: Matthew Jordaan

Johannesburg - Police are investigating the death of one of the world's longest surviving heart transplant patients Paul Thesen, his sister said on Sunday.

“Paul was found unconscious by the 1/8SA Police Service 3/8, slumped behind the wheel of his vehicle on the main road of Alexandria, in the Eastern Cape. His vehicle was undamaged,” Robin Thesen-Smith said in a statement.

She said her 48-year-old brother was found on Wednesday and had sustained an injury to his head.

“The cause of the injury is not yet known to us, but there is a police investigation underway.”

Thesen-Smith said her brother received his first donor heart at the age of 14 from a Xhosa man in 1980, and his second, three years later, from a girl who was fatally injured in a car accident.

She dismissed as “disinformation” and “nothing more than mischievous lies and the figment of an overactive imagination” a report in the Saturday Star that there was controversy about the first donor's race at the time of the operation.

The newspaper quoted Paddy Chapple, who was apparently a friend of Thesen, as saying that Thesen lay on the operating table for four hours until the apartheid government decided that when a heart left the body it became neutral, and that Thesen's classification remained white.

“The fact that the first donor heart was one from a Xhosa man was of absolutely no relevance whatsoever. Our entire family was overjoyed to get a suitable donor, as was the transplant team,” said Thesen-Smith.

Heart transplant pioneer Chris Barnard and his brother Marius Barnard performed the transplants on Thesen.

Thesen-Smith said her brother took a cocktail of anti-rejection drugs every day to prevent tissue rejection.

In later years, he also had a by-pass operation and a pacemaker fitted.

She said despite his health problems, Thesen went on to compete in the Para-Olympics in Switzerland the 1980s.


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