Or­gan­is­ing an ex­tra three decades of life

Ahead of Or­gan Donor Aware­ness Week, Margaret Jen­nings talks with Vera Dwyer, the long­est-sur­viv­ing sin­gle lung trans­plant vic­tim in the world

Irish Examiner - Feelgood - - Ageing With Attitude -

THREE decades ago she was given five years to live, but Sligo-based Vera Dwyer has de­fied the odds and now holds the ti­tle of the long­est-sur­viv­ing sin­gle lung trans­plant re­cip­i­ent in the world.

The great-grand­mother, who cel­e­brated her 77th birth­day just last week, re­ceived her cer­tifi­cate from the Guin­ness Book of Records four years ago.

At the age of 47 — then a mother of four chil­dren — she was told her time was lim­ited, af­ter she un­der­went a pi­o­neer­ing lung trans­plant op­er­a­tion in the Royal Bromp­ton and Hare­field Hospi­tal in Lon­don, be­cause she was suf­fer­ing from a con­di­tion called fi­bro­sis alve­oli­tis — a pro­gres­sive thick­en­ing of the walls of the air sacs of the lungs.

It seemed a cruel blow that fate had dealt, since she had never smoked and was fit, but she faced it with a day-by-day de­ter­mi­na­tion that has stood by her well. “Ev­ery day was a bonus to me. If I got five years I was think­ing ‘the youngest one will be such an age’ and ‘the next one will be such an age’... and that’s the way I was look­ing at it.”

As the years mounted and her chil­dren grew up, Vera got on with her life in the fam­ily farm at Car­rowcrory, grate­ful ev­ery day to her or­gan donor who had made those ex­tra decades pos­si­ble.

Then nine years ago she was faced with kid­ney fail­ure, a side-ef­fect, she says, of the anti-re­jec­tion drug she had been tak­ing for her orig­i­nal trans­plant. “I was on home dial­y­sis for about 18 months and that was a big or­deal. Then I had to go to Sligo three times a week for dial­y­sis and that was hard go­ing. Even­tu­ally, I was of­fered the trans­plant — I was com­ing home from dial­y­sis and I got the word in the taxi,” she tells Feel­good.

Aware that she has been dou­bly blessed by or­gan do­na­tion, Vera says: “Only for my two donors I would be long gone — I pray for them ev­ery sin­gle day and for their fam­i­lies... they were so good to do­nate their or­gans.”

So what has kept her go­ing? She has a strong re­li­gious faith and huge con­nec­tion with her adult chil­dren and the ex­tended fam­ily who all live within a five-minute drive of her home, which is es­pe­cially pre­cious since her “rock”, her hus­band Mike, died af­ter 50 years of mar­riage some years back.

“I asked God ev­ery day to let me see my chil­dren get reared and then it went from that to see them get mar­ried. And from that to see their chil­dren, so it keeps go­ing on... That’s what’s keep­ing me alive. I keep push­ing the goal­posts out with God... my bucket list keeps get­ting big­ger,” she says.

In her late 40s when given a death sen­tence, she would never have dreamt she’d see her six grand­chil­dren grow up, not to men­tion two great-grand­chil­dren — “two lovely lit­tle girleens”, Leah 6, and Alye­sha 2.

She’s com­mit­ted to a healthy life­style too, in­clud­ing eat­ing home-cooked food and walk­ing daily, but is cur­rently hin­dered as she’s on crutches await­ing a hip op­er­a­tion.

So how does she feel about fac­ing the op­er­at­ing the­atre again? “I’m a great be­liever in the Sa­cred Heart and any time I was hav­ing an anaes­thetic all I would say is ‘Sa­cred Heart of Je­sus I place all my trust in thee’, and I was gone to sleep. And then I’d wake up and I’d be so grate­ful.”

One of the gifts she re­ceived three decades ago when her health failed was a fuller ap­pre­ci­a­tion of her sur­round­ings: “I love na­ture. My good­ness... I never saw it un­til I got sick. I hadn’t time to look around. And then when you get sick you see all those beau­ti­ful things around you.

“I’m hop­ing that the hip will be done soon so I can be ready for the sum­mer again to take off walk­ing.”

Her dog, Jessie, a shih tzu, is champ­ing at the bit to get go­ing too: “She’s like a per­son — she’d nearly un­der­stand ev­ery word I say to her. She’s about eight or nine now at this stage. She gets so ex­cited when she sees me get­ting my run­ners on — she runs around in rings un­til I get out­side the door.”

For those sit­ting on the fence around do­nat­ing or­gans, Vera says: “Oh please, please sign up for it. It makes such a dif­fer­ence. I got 30 years out of my donor’s lung and then my kid­ney. It makes such a dif­fer­ence to peo­ple. It’s a whole new life to give.”

Or­gan Donor Aware­ness Week runs from to­mor­row, March 31 to April 7. There are ap­prox­i­mately 550 peo­ple in Ire­land await­ing life-saving trans­plants. Thanks to the gift of or­gan do­na­tion, al­most 3,500 trans­planted peo­ple in Ire­land are en­joy­ing ex­tended life. For fur­ther in­for­ma­tion visit www.ika.ie/card

“The se­cret of ge­nius is to carry the spirit of the child into old age, which means never los­ing your en­thu­si­asm

— English writer Al­dous Hux­ley

Pic­ture: James Con­nolly

STAND­ING TALL: ‘I got 30 years out of my donor’s lung and then my kid­ney. It makes such a dif­fer­ence to peo­ple. It’s a whole new life to give,’ says Vera Dwyer.

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