Student who carried heart in backpack dies from transplant complications

A woman who carried her artificial heart in a backpack after her own was removed has died due to transplant complications.

Rebecca Henderson, 24, from Bicester, Oxfordshire, had her entire heart removed and replaced with a total artificial heart (TAH) last year, after being diagnosed with grade 3 heart cancer in 2017.

She was put on the heart transplant list in January after scans showed she had been cancer-free for a year. She died on Wednesday in Harefield hospital in west London, surrounded by her family and friends.

She was one of only two people in the UK with a TAH.

Her family said: “Becca was a beautiful, brilliant, shining light in our lives.

“It was a privilege to have her as a daughter and a friend. Heaven has gained the brightest new star. We will love her forever.”

The Oxford University postgraduate student is believed to have been the only person in the world with a TAH as treatment for heart cancer, which is incredibly rare.

She was initially rushed to hospital in October 2017 after collapsing and vomiting blood due to sepsis.

Henderson had said: “Sepsis saved my life in a strange way, because it meant they found the tumour.”

Before this, she had complained to her doctor of a racing heart, but it had been brushed off as a symptom of anxiety.

She had carried her 7kg heart, which was connected through tubes in her torso, in a rucksack. It had a battery life of only two and a half hours, and she often had to plug it in to charge when she was out.

But Henderson had been determined not to allow her condition to rule her life. The Medieval Studies student returned to Oxford in October 2018 with her new heart and plans to apply for PhDs.

She had previously told the Guardian: “I hoped to visit 30 countries before 30, but now it’s before I’m 50. I’m also hopeful that I’ll get back to not only living, but thriving.”

Her tutors at St Anne’s College described her as “a person of extraordinary courage, humour and intellectual achievement as well as potential”.


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