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Thursday, 28 September, 2000, 12:47 GMT 13:47 UK
NHS hope for Big Brother appeal girl
Joanne Harris
Joanne Harris was originally told she could not have the operation
A teenager with Down's syndrome set to go to the US for a transplant after Big Brother winner Craig handed her his prize money has been told she can have the operation on the NHS.

Eighteen-year-old Joanne Harris, from Liverpool, was planning to travel to the US for a heart and lung transplant after doctors at Great Ormond Street Children's Hospital said she was "too well" to be put on a waiting list.

Big Brother's final night
Up to 10 million people saw Craig pledge his winnings to Joanne
A bid to raise 250,000 to pay for the operation was met this week after Craig donated all of his winnings from the Channel 4 programme and after a public appeal.

But after assessing Joanne earlier this month, doctors at an adult cardiac centre at University Hospital Birmingham have agreed that the operation should be carried out on the NHS.

According to the hospital, doctors were only able to assess Joanne after she had turned 18.

Joanne Harris
Joanne's 250,000 target was reached on Wednesday
They have put her on a waiting list and will carry out the transplant surgery when her health begins to deteriorate.

Because the operation carries very high risks, doctors usually only perform the surgery on a patient who has less than a year to live.

Joanne's life is not believed to be under immediate threat but doctors have agreed to keep her condition under review.

A spokeswoman from Great Ormond Street hospital denied reports that it had refused to operate on Joanne because she had Down's syndrome.

It's the best news I could have hoped for

Craig Phillips, Big Brother winner
"Our doctors assessed Joanne in 1997 but they felt that she was too healthy.

"We are now unable to carry out the operation because she is an adult and we are a children's hospital.

"Joanne was again referred to Great Ormond Street Hospital in April of this year, but because she is now 18 and our cut-off age is 16, our consultants asked for her to be referred to a local adult centre."

She added: "Great Ormond Street Children's Hospital assesses and treats all patients on an individual basis independent of associated problems including Down's syndrome."

Joanne is the cousin of the best friend of Mr Phillips, who is originally from Liverpool.

He highlighted her plight to the nation when he emerged victorious from the Big Brother house.

After hearing the news that Joanne could still have the operation in Britain Mr Phillips told The Mirror newspaper: "It's the best news I could have hoped for.

Craig Phillips
Craig is still adjusting to life outside the house
"All Jo's family and friends have wanted is for her to get this operation."

'Only person'

The Down's Syndrome Association welcomed the hospital decision.

"We are delighted but it is worth bearing in mind that, as far as we are aware, Joanne is the only person with Down's syndrome to be put on a NHS waiting list for a heart and lung transplant," said a spokeswoman.

"This is despite the fact that more than 300 children are born every year with heart problems."

She called for better training for doctors to help to give proper treatment to patients with Down's syndrome.

"We are aware that people with Down's syndrome do not always receive the care they need.

"We want doctors to treat patients with Down's syndrome purely on clinical criteria."

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Craig scooped the 70,000 prizeBig Brother
Stories from inside TV's most famous house
See also:

27 Sep 00 | Entertainment
Big Brother Craig meets target
19 Sep 00 | Entertainment
Big Brother opens his wallet
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