GP made history after multiple organ transplants
CYSTIC fibrosis patient Allison Angell made medical history when she became the first person in the UK to have all her major organs transplanted.
By the time she had reached the midway point of university, the Rhondda GP had received a new liver, heart, lungs and kidney after hers were damaged by her incurable condition.
Despite her decades of ill-health, she miraculously managed to complete medical school, qualify as a GP, and now helps others overcome their own medical problems.
“I celebrate four birthdays each year: one for my heart and lungs in August, one for my liver in September, my kidney in December and my actual birthday in May,” said Allison, who turns 40 in a month’s time.
“They are days to reflect as well as celebrate; to recognise those people who have lost their loved ones and allowed me to live.
“All I have ever wanted to do is lead a normal life. It still feels a bit like Russian Roulette about what will happen to me in the future.
“But I’m quite pragmatic about it all, especially being a doctor. If it’s not working you have to replace it. You just have to get on with it.”
Allison, who is originally from Fishguard in Pembrokeshire, said her health troubles first began when she was just seven years old.
She discovered she was one of the 10% of cystic fibrosis patients who also has liver disease.
“I started getting really poorly when I was about 14 – I was put on the transplant list at 16 and had it at 17,” said Allison, who had the first transplant in Addenbrookes Hospital, Cambridge.
“The operation was 11 hours long and came with lots of complications.
“Primarily cystic fibrosis affects the lungs and due to the complications of my initial transplant my lungs started to deteriorate quite fast after that.”
In 1997, at the age of 19, Allison underwent a heart and lung transplant at Papworth Hospital in Cambridge.
“In those days they did lung and heart transplants at the same time,” she said.
“I think of it as like taking an engine out of a car. It was more fiddly taking just one of the organs out.”
Allison said her healthy heart was transplanted into David Hamilton, a man from Maidstone in Kent who she ended up having a meal with just a fortnight after their procedures.
“My mum and dad met his family in the canteen before I had the operation,” she said.
“After about two weeks of being kept on different wards we went for a meal together. I was 19 at the time and pretty carefree. I just took everything in my stride.
“We both had half a shandy and toasted each other. Our families still remain friends and I ended up giving David 14 extra years of his life before he passed away.”
Following the successful procedure Allison was well enough to start a neuroscience degree at Cardiff University.
But during her fourth year she was devastated to discover she had been diagnosed with kidney failure, forcing her to take three years off.
“As a result of the strong antibiotics I had been taking it affected my kidneys,” she added.
“I was told it was impossible to study and do dialysis because it is so time-consuming and you feel absolutely terrible. I had to give it up.
“I went onto another transplant waiting list but my dad David John decided to give me his kidney.
“If it wasn’t for the doctors and surgeons at the University Hospital of Wales and my dad I would never have been able to go back and fulfil my dream of becoming a doctor.”
Now working as a GP in Tonypandy, Rhondda, Allison said she was delighted to be able to give something back to the NHS.
“I don’t feel like what I’ve been through has made me a better GP but it has helped me empathise with patients. I feel like I can relate to them more,” she added.
She said one of the biggest strengths in her life came from her best friend Victoria Lambe, 40, who is also from Fishguard and moved to Cardiff University at the same time.
Deputy head teacher Victoria, from Pontcanna, Cardiff, has completed a range of annual charity challenges including the Great North Swim across Lake Windermere and the Cardiff Half Marathon.
But this year she is taking her fundraising ventures to a new level by going on a 17-day trek through the Himalayas to reach Everest’s Base Camp.
All the money raised will go towards the Better Life Appeal in a bid to increase the number of beds in the All-Wales Cystic Fibrosis Unit at University Hospital Llandough where Allison is regularly treated.
Victoria said: “Allison is the bravest, most positive person in my life and she’s not defined by her illness.
“She doesn’t let her physical challenges get on top of her.
“She’s somebody who looks for the positives in everything.
“She has a can-do, never-give-up attitude and I’m privileged to have her as a best friend.
“I wanted to do this trek to give me a better understanding of what it’s like to have cystic fibrosis and find it difficult to breathe.
“Allison’s husband Nathan has been training me by taking me to the Brecon Beacons every weekend.”
To donate to Victoria visit www.justgiving. com/fundraising/ victoria-lambe
Allison Angell was the first person in the UK to have all of her major organs transplanted
Allison in hospital after one of her operations