Cycling champion tells of 'hero' heart donor who saved his life

Steve Donaldson, 61, has won multiple international cycling competitions after having a heart transplant in 2010.

Cycling champion tells of ‘hero’ heart donor who saved his life NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde

A cycling champion has told how his “biggest hero” is a man who donated his heart while he was anxiously awaiting a transplant.

After suffering chest pains from age 18, Steve Donaldson, now 61, was diagnosed with a ventricular tachycardia (VT) – a fast heart rate arising from the lower chambers of the heart – and was put immediately on medication.

He said he “wouldn’t be here today” without the man who donated his heart after worrying he would not see another Christmas in 2010.

Steve shared his story in honour of Organ and Tissue Donation Week in a bid to encourage others to declare their donation status.

It comes as figures show nearly half of all organ and tissue donor decisions are unrecorded in Glasgow.

Steve at a local event in Bishopton.NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde

Those yet to record their donation decision are being urged to make it known as statistics show just 53.3% of people in NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde health board have responded.

Of those who have, 50% are opting to donate organs and tissue while 3.3% have chosen to opt out.

This leaves a total of 46.7% of decisions unrecorded in the area.

Having dreamt his whole life of being a cyclist, Steve will captain a cycle from Glasgow to the KeIpies as part of the Race for Recipients on Saturday, an event created to raise awareness for Organ and Tissue Donation Week.

However, he has told how his story could have been very different without access to a heart transplant when he was most at risk.

When out cycling one day in 1980, he had pains in his chest which led him straight to accident and emergency.

He later received his diagnosis which began long journey of hospital visits, medications, and different technologies to keep his heart in shape as the years progressed.

In 1999, he was fitted with his first defib and was able to go on his first holiday in ten years, but in 2004 the doctors gave him the news that it was no longer just one side of his heart that wasn’t working – both sides were struggling.

The next six years were spent being close to his wife, including assisting her in her work. As time went on, Steve really started to struggle and, in 2010, doctors put him on the transplant list for a new heart.

Steve winning the European Heart n Lung Tx roadrace in Lignano SabbiadoroNHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde

“I got my first phone call for a heart in April 2010, but that heart went to someone else,” he said.

“I got another call in September of the same year, but tests on that heart showed that it couldn’t be donated after all.

“When we reached October, I told my wife that I may as well give up. I felt like I’d never get the heart I needed and realistically, thought I wouldn’t make it to Christmas. Then, at 1.10am on Tuesday the November 10, I got my call. When I asked the doctor how many others were in line for this heart, he answered, just you Steve. I couldn’t believe it.”

Steve’s surgery was successful and, by Christmas, he was home with his wife and his new heart. After two years of rehab, Steve was back in the saddle.

Since then, he has raced in nine cycling events internationally, and won. He is currently European Road Race Champion in his age category at the European Transplant Games.

Steve’s message to everyone this Organ and Tissue Donation Week is this: “If you want to be a hero, have the organ and tissue donation conversation with your family.

“My biggest hero is the man who gave me his heart, and my thanks go to his family for speaking on his behalf and enabling that to happen. Without him and them, I wouldn’t be here today.”

In honour of Organ and Tissue Donation Week the health board are reminding people of their available choices under Scotland’s opt out system in a bid to increase registrations.

Scots can choose to be a donor and to opt out. If they do nothing, and are aged 16 or over, it will be assumed they agree to be a donor if they die in circumstances in which donation is possible.

There are exceptions for certain groups for whom the opt out system does not apply, or it would be against their views.

Tony McGeown, specialist nurse  in organ donation at NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde said: “We’re encouraging everyone to think about organ and tissue donation this week and record that decision, whatever it may be, on the NHS Organ and Tissue Donor Register.

“Only around one per cent of people die in a way that makes organ donation possible, which means every opportunity for donation is precious. Help make this week count, and don’t leave your loved ones in doubt.”

People can register their donation decision and find out more at or by calling 0300 123 2323.

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