Transplant girl's story leads to a surge in donors

A girl of six given a new heart when she had only hours to live said yesterday she had had enough of hospital and wanted to get home to her friends, her family and her toys.

Sally Slater, whose plight moved the nation as she lay amid tubes and wires awaiting a transplant, demonstrated as only a six-year-old can that she was in the land of the living.

Facing the cameras for the first time since the operation, with her relieved parents at her side, she said she was looking forward to seeing her two brothers, eating her beloved carrot cake and playing with her aunt's dog called Fudge. She goes home this weekend.

Then she told a favourite tale of how her brother, Charlie, once put Fudge in the washing machine. "That was really funny," she said.

Six weeks ago, her parents' dramatic appeal for a spare heart to save her projected the image of her tiny prone body on to front pages. Sally had come into the Freeman hospital in Newcastle upon Tyne with a virus. Doctors discovered it had attacked her heart muscle and a transplant was her only hope.

Her parents, deciding the media offered the best chance of finding a donor, invited the cameras in to record her desperate plight. A heart was found through the wave of publicity and the organ donor scheme was highlighted.

Yesterday, Jon Slater, Sally's father, thanked the hospital's staff and the family of the donor for saving his daughter.

"Without that amazing gift this would never have happened, and the story would be very different," said the 36-year-old financial adviser.

The Sun newspaper took up the issue of the organ donor shortage and ran it for a week, printing a cut-out-and-keep donor card for 12 million readers. TV and radio discussed the "opt-out" donor scheme in parts of Europe, and Scottish papers organised a public poll.

The British Transplant Society said figures for the first three months of the year showed a 16 per cent increase in donors across the UK, compared with 168 in the similar period last year.

John Forsyth, a transplant surgeon in Edinburgh and secretary of the society, said: "The parents of this young girl were phenomenal. I listened to Sally's father and he put over difficult and sensitive issues in an articulate and sensible manner. He has been an ambassador for transplantation.

"It is the impression of people involved in transplantation that the increased publicity around the subject and particularly this story which touched the hearts of many has encouraged discussion and raised awareness which may have led to the increase in donors."

The health department said even bad publicity seemed to be good for donation, so long as the issue was in the public eye. More than one million extra people had joined the organ donor register since last year, lifting the total to 8.7 million, partly fuelled by the scandal disclosed last summer of the family that imposed racist conditions on the transplant of organs from a dead relative.

Publicity surrounding Sally Slater and the lottery winner who said he would exchange his £4.1m windfall for a new kidney had caused a further upsurge in the numbers. "There is still a shortage of organs and we need more people to sign up but we are making tremendous progress," said a department spokeswoman.

"That is partly due to the efforts of Sally Slater's family."