Recipient of a transplant
Emma Hilton - From Trauma to Triumph
Recipient of a transplant
I have CF and was told I needed a transplant in October 2012. At that time I was married with a son of seven years old and 19 month old twins. The first few months were tough. My wife left me and the reality of the situation started to sink in. I was a self-employed dry stone waller and I felt very low.
Luckily I have a wonderful family who helped me through. My brother went with me to the Freeman Hospital in Newcastle for all my pre-transplant assessments and we became quite well known in the local bars and pubs after each day's tests - to the extent that my hospital notes recorded "Don't expect back on ward early at night!"
I spent the next two years going for assessment every three months. Whilst my lung capacity was below 30% my physical fitness, due to my job, kept me on the list. However, in early 2014 my oxygen levels dropped and the carbon dioxide levels in my blood were rising, so I was placed on the active list. The next 18 months were a surreal ritual of continually checking my phone for signal and battery.
My first call came at around 3 am in June 2014. I was very emotional; your whole life flashes through your mind; should I write letters to my kids, just in case; how would they feel if I didn't make it, etc. It was a tough journey in the ambulance. I cried all the way, as did my brother, Jeremy (or Germ, as we all call him), but the op didn't happen so we decided to go into Newcastle and enjoy a few pubs and a Chinese before returning home by train! This happened seven more times, always in the middle of the night, and we followed the same ritual. The Freeman team knew about this and used to ask us which pub we were heading to!
In October 2015 I received two calls. The first visit was unsuccessful but the hospital staff noticed that my health had deteriorated dramatically and were in the process of putting me on the urgent list. Two days later I received another call and we repeated the journey, joking that we would be in the Chinese in a few hours! My chest was shaved again (to my sorrow!) but I was allowed to retain my boxer shorts as the paper pants did not appeal! Kirsty entered the room and said: "Sorry boys, no beer or Chinese for you today ...". Slowly it sank in - this was it! It was very emotional - but I did get to keep my boxers on in theatre!
The next morning I took my first breath without the machines and was astounded at how easy it was. There was so much air going in and I didn't have to fight to breathe - it was amazing! The next few days were a whirlwind of excitement, including a live broadcast on Channel 5 (my first brush with fame - but sadly no fortune!). There were a few minor hiccups but happily everything sorted itself out.
My recovery was incredibly quick due to my determination and fitness. I was allowed to leave the ward after two weeks, returning to hospital initially every week; now I only go every two to three months. I have had two bouts of rejection, but I've been okay since February 2016.
On New Year's Day I did a five-mile bike ride with my children, which would only have been a dream a year earlier. I'm also back to rugby coaching and played my first comeback match in July, putting in some big tackles and taking some as well; I even scored a try!
In addition to returning to my stone walling, I have met a beautiful lady who has a wonderful six year old daughter, the same age as my twins. They all get on well, making life truly fantastic.
None of this would have been possible without the amazing gift of life from a 42 year old man who, along with his family, is a true hero to my children and I. The strength of his family at such a distressing time is phenomenal; the feelings they must have been going through as they were asked their thoughts seconds after being told he had passed away are something many of us will never experience - but in their hour of loss they saved my life and gave my kids their dad back. I've tried to write a letter but I feel guilty for being so happy; it feels as though I'm forgetting their loss, although I know they want to hear how well I'm doing. My hero was only one year older than me - and the thought of his family having their first Christmas without him whilst I celebrated was too much for me.
Since my op I've become far more sensitive and appreciate everything in my life. I'm now living in an old farm house that I have recently renovated and am planning an amazing future for us as one big family.
The impact of my transplant has been phenomenal. I just hope I can help others by persuading the undecided to donate and recycle instead of wasting an opportunity to become an amazing hero like my donor and his family.