A MOTHER who has waited two years for a new heart was furious yesterday after it was revealed an American billionaire paid pounds 60,000 for a transplant in an NHS hospital.
Lynne Lewis, 29, who has a congenital heart disease, said: "It is disgusting. People are waiting and dying because there are so few organs available.
"Yet someone can walk in and pay pounds 60,000 for a heart - money talks."
Richard DeVos, 73, of Grand Rapids, Michigan, is one of the world's richest men and got his transplant in this country after being turned down in the US because of his age.
He got his new heart from an NHS patient, in an NHS hospital at the hands of an NHS surgeon. In return, pounds 60,000 was deposited in a private medical account.
Lynne, of Broxburn, West Lothian, said: "I was told I would need a new heart within two years. Those two years will be up in April but I am still waiting.
"It would be terrible if money became a factor in transplants. People would end up bidding. Would you have to sell your house for a heart? What would happen if you had no home or no money?
"It sends a very poor message to hundreds of people waiting for a transplant.
"How many more millionaires are there out there who will think they can buy their way into the system?
"I just cannot believe they could do something like this."
Lynne, who was diagnosed with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy almost 10 years ago, can now only hope for the pager message which will tell her a new heart has become available.
DeVos, who had suffered two strokes and had already undergone a triple heart by- pass operation, got his transplant at the world- famous Harefield Hospital, Middlesex, in 1997.
It happened after a woman with lung disease underwent a domino transplant - surgeons removed her healthy heart, because they wanted to let her new lung and heart develop together.
Within five hours, her heart had been given to DeVos by Britain's leading transplant surgeon Sir Magdi Yacoub who has carried out hundreds of NHS operations.
There are almost 700 people in Britain waiting for a new heart, but a Government agency insisted the organ given to DeVos wasn't suitable for any of them.
A spokeswoman for the UK Transplant Support Service said: "No organ would be given for transplant until it was certain that firstly a patient within the UK could not receive it and secondly it was not suitable for a patient in the EU.
"The decision rests with the clinicians who remove the organ. They are able to decide whether it is suitable for donation.
"In this case the organ was not suitable for donation to a patient within the NHS waiting list or in the EU with whom we share organs suitable for transplant."
And a health department source said: "If there are no suitable donors you cannot put a heart in a fridge and wait for someone with a match to join the list. Organs go off. You only have a window of four or five hours before it is useless.
"The donated heart was unsuitable for other people because of its size and blood group. If there is a patient from overseas who does match up then why deny them?"
But John Evans, chairman of the British Organ Donor Society, said: "I look at this with a degree of unrest.
"It appears as though an American billionaire has been able to receive a transplant via the back door.
"What troubles me is that we just do not know what is going on behind the scenes.
"We know that hospitals throughout the country receive payment for carrying out transplants for patients from Europe. We do not know to what extent."
He added: "We are deeply opposed to people buying organs for transplant. It would mean the impoverished would have no chance of receiving treatment against someone with money.
"In America, they are very, very worried about people buying their way into the system. And that is in a country where cash is usually the bottom line."
DeVos made his estimated pounds 2 billion fortune after founding the pyramid selling group, Amway - named after the American Way.
He is a devout Christian who bankrolls a TV evangelism group and has immense influence in US business and political circles.
The mogul was a regular visitor to the White House when Gerald Ford was president.
Last night, DeVos reacted angrily to accusations that his money had helped him jump the queue for a heart transplant.
He said: "I believe in miracles and I praise the Lord for giving me this.
"It had nothing to do with money. That is just sniping and profoundly untrue. All I want to say is I am grateful and I am doing well."