A cancer-stricken father who was ‘left to die’ after being refused an NHS liver transplant says he’d been forced to fly to Turkey for £80,000 emergency treatment.
Don Jackson, in his 50s, branded his care ‘horrendous’ after he waited seven months for a new organ before doctors said his tumours were too big for surgery.
He’s since flown to the Turkish capital Istanbul where laws permit him to have a life-saving liver transplant operation – if he can stump up thousands for his medical bills.
The father-of-five from York said British doctors had told him he would need a transplant in June last year after finding a cancerous 3cm tumour during an MRI scan on his liver.
Mr Jackson claims he was told it would take roughly two months to secure a suitable organ, but by Christmas, he was still waiting despite numerous ‘promises’ from medics.
Cancer-stricken Don Jackson (pictured), from York, says he was ‘left to die’ after being refused an NHS liver transplant says he’d been forced to fly to Turkey for £80,0000 emergency treatment
Father-of-five Mr Jackson (pictured with three of his children), in his 50s, branded his care ‘horrendous’ after he waited seven months for a new organ before doctors said his tumours were too big for surgery
In January this year, scans revealed his main tumour had grown and a second lump had appeared in his liver, leading doctors to refuse treatment as they were too large.
The musician says he’s furious with the NHS care he received after being forced to seek help abroad – with just three months to live.
He said: ‘The way it’s treated me has been absolutely horrendous.
‘Every time I went there, they promised it would be a week or another week or two. One of the consultants even said: ‘I will put every penny on you getting it next week’.’
‘But basically, it’s ridiculous. I have been left to die by the UK, and I’ve needed to go to another country and find £80,000 to try and get some help.
He added: ‘I’ve got five kids and they’ve been going through hell while this has been going on. One minute I’m going to die, and another minute I can maybe survive.’
Mr Jackson fell sick in November 2021 and was diagnosed with ascites, a condition where fluid collects around the abdomen.
Doctors said this had been caused by cirrhosis of the liver, which had been triggered by Hepatitis C, a leading cause of cancerous cells.
In June last year, an MRI scan confirmed he had a 3cm tumour in his liver, and he was then referred to St James’s University Hospital, Leeds, for cancer treatment.
Mr Jackson said: ‘They said the only way of curing it would be taking the liver out and putting a new one in. I had a series of tests in Leeds through July, and in August, they put me on a waitlist.
‘So I waited a month in Leeds to get on the list, which is a ridiculous amount of time to wait. But I was promised a transplant within two to three months.
‘They told me the average wait time was 65 days. And they kept promising and promising and promising that I would get a liver transplant.
‘But this went on for seven months.’
Don Jackson at the airport on his way to Turkey to get treatment for his liver cancer
‘So you are going to let me die and leave my five kids without a father because of this stupid law?’ Mr Jackson asked doctors when they said he could not get a liver transplant as the cancer had grown and spread in the organ
Mr Jackson said he was due a check-up scan before Christmas, but when he contacted the hospital in the New Year, he claims staff admitted they’d ‘forgotten’ to book him in.
And when doctors finally reviewed his scans in January, they found his original tumour had grown and was now joined by a second tumour – meaning he couldn’t have a transplant due to the ‘Milan Criteria’.
This states that a liver cancer patient should not receive a transplant if they have two tumours or more where one measures over 3cm in diameter.
Mr Jackson said: ‘They put it through as an emergency scan, and following that they found another tumour had appeared that was 1.5cm long, and the first tumour, which was 3cm, had gone to 3.6cm.
‘I said to the doctors “So you are going to let me die and leave my five kids without a father because of this stupid law?”
‘They said “There is nothing else we can do”, and they took me off the transplant list at Leeds.’
Mr Jackson launched an appeal, but this was rejected, and he then read out about the possibility of going to Turkey, where doctors can offer treatment for larger growths.
And after securing half the £80,000 needed for his treatment, he flew to Turkey on February 15, where he is now a patient at the Sisli Memorial Hospital in Istanbul.
He added: ‘Here, I’ve done all the tests in two days, which just shows how ridiculous the NHS is, how painfully slow they are. In the UK I had to wait for a CT scan for one and a half months. Here I had to wait ten minutes.’
Mr Jackson says when he returns from Turkey after an expected two and half month’s stay, he hopes to launch a campaign to get the law changed surrounding liver transplants.
Mr Jackson in his hospital bed in Turkey, where he received treatment for his liver cancer
He added: ‘If MPs get their act together and go to parliament, they can change that law and it would save hundreds of lives a year. It’s like manslaughter now.
‘It’s a scandal. They are going to leave them to die when they can be operated on and saved.’
Dr John Adams, Medical Director (Governance & Risk) at Leeds Teaching Hospitals, said in response that the criteria for transplant patients was governed by ‘nationally agreed guidelines’.
He said: ‘The safety of our patients is our top priority. Our specialist clinical teams individually assess the suitability of each patient waiting for a liver transplant.
‘The eligibility criteria for liver transplantation in the UK is based on nationally agreed guidelines, administered through the Liver Advisory Group, and aligned with international practice.’
You can donate to Mr Jackson’s fundraiser on GoFundMe here.