2021 Winner

Aaron Hunter


Schoolboy who has faced battles to survive since birth now has a new lease of life thanks to the world’s first ‘heart in a box’ transplant on a child.

Aaron, 10, was born with hypoplastic left heart syndrome, meaning he had only half a heart. He underwent his first life-saving surgery just hours after he was born. Mum Stephanie says: “It was touch and go he would survive. I was offered the choice of surgery or to take him home to die. It was that risky.”

Further major surgery followed, but an operation when he was three failed and he suffered a stroke that left him partially paralysed. He was in intensive care for five months.

Doctors said Aaron was unlikely to survive beyond another year, and even after he passed that milestone, Stephanie feared he would be one of the 25% of children on the transplant list who die before a new heart can be found. “You read of kids dying on the list and you worry your kid might be one of those.”

In 2018, a suitable heart was found for Aaron, but Stephanie had another difficult choice to make.

The organ had been kept pumping outside a human body in a pioneering ‘heart in a box’ procedure.  A UK programme to use it on adults began at Royal Papworth Hospital, Cambridge in 2015, but Aaron would be the first child anywhere in the world to undergo this new type of transplant and Stephanie had to sign a special consent form to allow the operation to take place.

The surgery was a success, and today Aaron is a boy transformed. Stephanie, from Bo’ness near Edinburgh, says: “The kid they thought wouldn’t survive 24 hours is now playing football, going to school, can walk for miles and even climbs mountains.”

She added: “I am overwhelmed that Aaron has won a Pride of Scotland award. It means so much that he has been recognised for being brave. I want to thank all those who nominated him as well as everyone involved in his care to get him to this point.

“After everything he has been through, he really is one of the nicest, kindest boys and my little miracle.”