Woman who lived with heart in rucksack dies following transplant complications

Rebecca Henderson (BBC/Becca Henderson)

A woman who carried her artificial heart in a rucksack following life saving surgery has died.

Rebecca Henderson, 24, died at Harefield Hospital on Wednesday following transplant complications, her family and friends have said.

Her mother Linda tweeted: “We’re going to miss our amazing, wonderful daughter. She touched so many lives and lived her life to the fullest. She was also my best friend and I’m going to love and miss her forever.”

She added in a separate tweet: “It is a privilege to be her mum and I’ll never stop loving or missing her.”


The Oxford University post-graduate student was diagnosed with cancer of the heart, which is extremely rare, in 2017.

Medics concluded that removing her heart was the only way they could save her life, and a mechanical replacement – known as a Totally Artificial Heart (TAH) – was used.

The TAH connected to a 7kg pump via two tubes coming out of Rebecca’s stomach.

In January, after Rebecca had been free of cancer for a year, she was placed on the transplant list.

Dr Janina Ramerez, an Oxford academic, said on Instagram: “She lived for over a year with a total artificial heart and sadly the operation that was due to give her a new one took her.

“She was just the strongest, bravest person I’ve ever met. Think of her today. Do something brave and strong to remember her.”


Ms Henderson, from Bicester in Oxfordshire, was finishing a masters in English (650– 1550) at St Anne’s College, Oxford, having already completed a BA in English and Modern Languages there between 2013 and 2017.

The college said in a statement that the “talented and enthusiastic student” had “inspired us all with her unwavering determination to pursue her studies and her contagious enthusiasm for college life.

“She was progressing towards successfully completing her masters despite all the health challenges she was facing, whilst also embracing social opportunities within St Anne’s.

“Her most recent cause for celebration before her operation was that she had received an offer from Oxford’s English department to undertake a DPhil.

“She had so many hopes and plans for the future and it is hard for us to realise that she will not have the chance to fulfil them.”

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Ms Henderson’s tutors added in a statement: “Becca’s positive outlook and her tremendous courage and determination were an inspiration to all those around her.

“In the hospital, while recovering from her first heart surgery, she wrote her first two academic papers, both of which she was subsequently asked to publish.

“Just hours before her heart transplant, she was working on her thesis proposal. She was a true scholar and we all have something to learn from her dedication.

“Characteristically, she was planning to write her DPhil thesis on attitudes to disability in the Middle Ages in hope of contributing towards changing attitudes towards disability.”

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