Your Life in Their Hands

Director: BBC
Year: 2004
Country: UK
Rating: N/A

Filed under: Biomedical Research, Documentary

"The series follows Henry Marsh - Neurosurgeon, Nigel Heaton - Liver Surgeon and Stephen Westaby - Cardiac Surgeon, and reveals the skill, compassion and steely nerve it takes to become leaders in their profession. For some patients, surgery is their last chance. Their future depends on Henry, Nigel and Stephen. The series follows the emotional stories of these patients as they put their trust, and their lives, into the surgeons' hands. Your Life In Their Hands also reveals some of the pioneering, innovative and often incredibly risky procedures the three surgeons carry out in complex operations.

Programme 1 - Monday 8 March 2004, 9pm
Henry Marsh, now based at St George's Hospital in London, is one of the busiest and most pioneering neurosurgeons in the country. Drawn to brain surgery after his three-month-old son was diagnosed with a brain tumour he is acutely aware that, 'You're operating on people's thoughts and feelings. It is not just life and death, if an operation goes wrong, you change people.' It's dangerous work - a slip of his scalpel could paralyse someone, erase their memories or alter their personality forever. Henry's patient Adrian looks like a typical thirty year old, he plays football, drinks with his mates, is deeply in love with his wife, Charlotte, and feels at the peak of health. However, Adrian and Charlotte are devastated when he is diagnosed with a tumour very close to the speech area of his brain. Without an operation it will almost certainly kill him within a few years. Henry proposes a radical procedure to try and save Adrian. He will operate on Adrian's brain while he is awake, enabling Henry to monitor Adrian's speech as the tumour is removed and hopefully minimising any permanent brain damage. It is the best chance Adrian has to prolong his life, but if something goes wrong he could lose the power of speech, or worse.

Programme 2 - Monday 15 March 2004, 9pm
Nigel Heaton heads one of the world's leading liver units at Kings College Hospital, London. After fourteen years in the job and 800 liver transplants he says, 'I still love doing's a drug...a challenge.'
Two year old Omar's parents have given up their home, their life savings and travelled over 2000 miles to get him the vital liver surgery that could save his life. With no sign of a donor and Omar growing weaker by the day, his father Mamoud decides to make an enormous sacrifice and donate Omar a piece of his own liver. For Omar's mother, Rania, the stress is almost unbearable as she watches both her husband and her son go under the knife. Nigel holds the future of an entire family in his hands.
At only twenty-seven years old, Lizzie spent much of her life in hospital and bravely underwent the harrowing process of five liver transplants. Your Life In Their Hands follows Lizzie preparing for her sixth. And Nigel and his team prepare, for the first time, to take the radical step of also giving Lizzie a bone-marrow transplant in the hope it will stop her body's immune system destroying her new liver.
And three year old Lucy becomes the recipient of a pioneering new technique which may avoid the need for invasive transplant surgery altogether.

Programme 3 - Monday 22 March 2004, 9pm
For Stephen Westaby, based at the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford, surgery is ‘more obsession than profession'. Aged six, he saw some of the first televised images of open heart surgery and is now acknowledged as one of the world's best cardiac surgeons with 10,000 operations under his belt.
Jim is suffering from severe heart disease and doctors have given him only weeks to live. Too sick to survive a heart transplant, his last hope is for Stephen to give him a mechanical heart implant. As Jim waits to find out if the operation can go ahead, he prays for a last chance, 'I'm a greedy bugger...I want life.' Sixty-four year old Valerie was born with a defective heart and has been through the trauma of three operations, each more risky than the last. Now she needs a fourth to replace a worn-out heart valve and stands less than a fifty percent chance of survival. Stephen is ready to take up the challenge and believes success is possible, 'If you're just bloody minded and say it's either; stand here and be persistent, or have to go out and tell the family that she has died. And boy, that is not a pleasure.'

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This Biomedical Ethics Film Library is being presented in partnership with European Medical Students' Association (EMSA)