A girl aged six has left the intensive care unit for the first time since she had a heart transplant three weeks ago, her father said yesterday.

Sally Slater's father, Jon, said: "She's been steadily pushed around in her wheelchair and had a breath of fresh air which she thoroughly enjoyed. She's getting her life back to a bit of normality and she's having a few smiles as well."

The girl's condition at the Freeman Hospital in Newcastle upon Tyne remains poorly but improving. Her life was saved after her parents made an emotional national appeal for a heart donor to come forward. The Slaters, from Malham in North Yorkshire, were told their daughter had just hours to live and they have since called for people to register as donors to help save other lives.

Mr Slater, 36, a selfemployed financial adviser, said yesterday that Sally had received dozens of Easter eggs and cards from friends and well-wishers across the country. She was visited by her brothers, Joe, five, and Charlie, three.

Her father also confirmed that she had received a small pacemaker in an operation last Thursday. The procedure had been due to take place next week but was brought forward six days after a problem with a connection to her heart from an external electric pacemaker. "The doctors were due to fit a pacemaker internally but the external one which she had been fitted up to lost a bit of contact with her heart," Mr Slater said. "There was a bit of concern as she went through that but there was no real panic."

The Slaters are hoping their daughter will be moved out of intensive care early next week if she continues to improve. If so, she can expect to stay on a recovery ward at the hospital for another six weeks before doctors consider letting her go home.

Sally's parents have written to the organ donor's family to thank them. "We told them what we thought of their wonderful gesture," said Mr Slater, adding that his family would never be able to repay the debt.