Westaby was raised on a council estate in Scunthorpe, Lincolnshire. In his autobiography, Fragile Lives, he claims inspiration for his career aspirations partly from watching the BBC medical documentary Your Life In Their Hands on the family's black and white television, and the harrowing first-hand perspective he had of his grandfather's deteriorating and subsequently fatal heart failure. He attended Henderson Avenue Junior School and Scunthorpe Grammar School (High Ridge School from 1968). He went to Charing Cross Hospital Medical School. He has claimed to have 'never been an straight-A student' and attributes his success in surgery primarily down to his manual dexterity, ambidexterity and ability to draw – traits he claims to have had from an early age.
Westaby and his team performed Peter Houghton's heart operation in June 2000, implanting a Jarvik 7 artificial left ventricular assist device, a turbine pump. Peter Houghton (1938–2007) became the longest living person with an electrical heart pump in the world.
His memoir of his career as a heart surgeon, Fragile Lives: A Heart Surgeon’s Stories of Life and Death on the Operating Table, was published in 2017 by HarperCollins. The book was shortlisted for the 2017 Costa Book Awards Biography Award and won the 2017 BMA president's choice award.
He is married with one son and one daughter.
- "Heart surgeon does pioneering op" BBC. Retrieved 3 December 2012.
- Richmond, Caroline (18 December 2007). "Peter Houghton". London: The Guardian. Retrieved 4 January 2008.
- "Javic 2000: The First Lifetime-Use Patient". Jarvik Heart, Inc. Archived from the original on 21 November 2010. Retrieved 4 January 2008.
- Roberts, Yvonne (12 February 2017). "Book of the Day: Fragile Lives by Stephen Westaby". The Guardian. Retrieved 23 June 2017.
- "Shortlist, 2017 Costa First Novel Award" (PDF). Retrieved 27 November 2018.
- "Outstanding medical books from around the world recognised at this year's prestigious BMA Medical Book Awards". Retrieved 27 November 2018.
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