Pearson chief back at work after lungs transplant

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A chief executive aged 55 has returned to his £695,000-a-year job just months after undergoing a double lung transplant.

A chief executive aged 55 has returned to his £695,000-a-year job just months after undergoing a double lung transplant.

Peter Jovanovich has gone back to full-time work running the £2.44bn Pearson Education business after doctors performed the operation in the US in March. He began part-time work in June and has now resumed full-time responsibility for the largest division in the Pearson empire, which spans the Financial Times and Penguin Books.

Mr Jovanovich said: "Sometimes I have to pinch myself to believe what really happened, happened. So far I've been lucky in my recovery."

Double lung transplants are still rare even in the US where about 134 are performed each year. The first successful double transplant was only completed in 1987. The surgery can take up to eight hours.

One colleague at Pearson said: "It's miraculous. It's amazing what science can do these days." The company was forced to announce in December last year that doctors had told Mr Jovanovich to take an extended leave of absence. It transpired that he had been wrestling with a recurring pulmonary disorder for some time.

Mr Jovanovich has been barred from international travel since the operation and is working from Pearson's offices in Upper Saddle River, New Jersey. However, he is now understood to have passed the point where the new organs risk being rejected, although he remains on medication.

He is married with two sons and followed his father into the publishing business. Colleagues at Pearson say he is known for his passion for the job and his drive to expand the company's education business. "I've been in publishing all my life. It is hard not to publish books," he said in his statement.

Mr Jovanovich's division, which owns the famous Longman series of foreign language textbooks, has been an essential prop for the group because advertising at its newspaper division has slumped over the past three years. Its higher eduction operation, supplying textbooks and other educational materials to colleges, was Pearson's best performing business in its last financial year, generating operating profits of £142m on sales of £775m. It was closely followed by the schools textbook business which had operating profits of £140m on sales of £1.15bn.

Mr Jovanovich is the second highest paid executive at Pearson after Dame Marjorie Scardino, the group chief executive. Before his operation some analysts had seen him as a natural successor to Dame Marjorie who is two years older than him. However, the seriousness of the surgery suggests he may not now be in the running for the job when it eventually becomes vacant. It now seems likely that an outsider will be appointed to the helm of the group when dame Marjorie decides to step down.

Mr Jovanovich will be under doctors' orders to take it easy, although he has already taken up a second role on the board of the Association of American Publishers. He began his career in publishing in 1972 as a college sales representative for the Macmillan group.

There are relatively few examples of people who have suffered serious illness and then returned to a full-time executive role. Most recently the new chief executive of McDonald's, Charlie Bell, underwent successful surgery to treat cancer of the colon in May. He was able to carry on running the business while recovering.

THE OPERATION

A double lung transplant is a major operation taking up to eight hours, and is a last resort when all other treatments have failed. The donor lungs are transplanted one at a time through an incision across the chest.

Physical and pulmonary therapy begins as soon as possible after surgery, usually within 48 hours, and lasts for at least three months. To prevent rejection, patients must take immunosuppressant drugs for life.

The biggest risks are infection and rejection. The lungs are exposed through inhalation to dust, bacteria and viruses which make them vulnerable to infection. In a transplant patient, whose immune system is suppressed, the risk is much greater.

For the first three months, patients may be told to wear a surgical mask to reduce the risk of infection. Every few months after that doctors will perform a biopsy to monitor for signs of rejection. Patients must build up their strength gradually by exercising. After three to six months they may go back to work, but will be ordered to avoid strenuous physical activity.

Jeremy Laurance

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