Night be­fore Christ­mas

I got a life-chang­ing phone call – on Christ­mas Eve…

Chat - - Chat come on in! - By Cur­tese Wal­ters, 31, from Northamp­ton

Aged 12, I no­ticed I had pains in my stom­ach af­ter eat­ing.

My mum Sara took me to the GP, and I was given antacid med­i­ca­tion.

Then, one day, I was see­ing a spe­cial­ist about mi­graines I’d been hav­ing, so I men­tioned the tummy aches, too.

‘Your liver feels very en­larged,’ he ex­plained, on ex­am­i­na­tion.

Re­ferred to a liver spe­cial­ist at Le­ices­ter Royal In­fir­mary, I had count­less tests.

‘Your liver’s se­verely dam­aged and has lots of scar tis­sue,’ doc­tors said. ‘You’ve got the liver of a 60-yearold al­co­holic!’

I was just a kid – had never touched a drop of al­co­hol!

They didn’t know why it’d hap­pened. But, di­ag­nosed with liver dis­ease, I was put on steroids.

It was so rare, I was re­ferred to a spe­cial­ist at Birm­ing­ham Chil­dren’s Hos­pi­tal.

‘You might need a trans­plant in 10 to 15 years,’ he ex­plained – but that felt like a life­time away, so I wasn’t wor­ried.

Apart from the tablets and reg­u­lar check­ups, you’d never have known any­thing was wrong. I did well in my ex­ams, earned a place at Northamp­ton Univer­sity study­ing Drama.

Grad­u­at­ing at 21, I got to­gether with Peter, then, 30, who I met through friends. But, a year later, in Au­gust 2008, I de­vel­oped a bad case of flu, and was ad­mit­ted to hos­pi­tal, strug­gling to breathe.

Doc­tors di­ag­nosed pneu­mo­nia, and, when more tests were done, the re­sults re­vealed some­thing else…

‘Your bile ducts have been in­fected,’ they ex­plained. ‘That’s what caused you to de­velop pneu­mo­nia.’

Turned out I had pri­mary scle­ros­ing cholan­gi­tis (PSC), a chronic dis­ease that slowly dam­ages the bile ducts.

My med­i­ca­tion was changed, and the in­fec­tion treated.

But my liver re­ally started to de­cline. I suf­fered stom­ach aches, got worn out eas­ily.

Then, when I was 28, my spe­cial­ist at Le­ices­ter Royal In­fir­mary be­gan talk­ing about a trans­plant.

‘We’ll need to ad­mit you to Queen El­iz­a­beth Hos­pi­tal Birm­ing­ham to dis­cuss op­tions,’ he ex­plained. ‘They’ll do tests, and put you on the trans­plant list.’

‘OK,’ I replied, in shock.

Soon af­ter, I had two as­sess­ment days – one at the hos­pi­tal for tests, and an­other meet­ing some­one who’d al­ready had a trans­plant, learn­ing about the med­i­ca­tion I’d need to be on for life.

By then, my liver prob­lems meant I was ex­hausted, so I’d stopped work­ing as a teach­ing as­sis­tant, and Peter and I were liv­ing back with Mum.

In De­cem­ber 2015, I heard that I’d been put on the trans­plant list.

‘The av­er­age wait is three months, but it could be over a year,’ they ex­plained.

But, two and a half weeks later, at 9pm on Christ­mas Eve, Peter and I were just go­ing up to bed to watch a film when the phone rang.

‘Sorry to in­ter­rupt you on Christ­mas Eve, but we’ve got a match for you,’ the trans­plant co-or­di­na­tor said. ‘Can you get

here in the next two hours?’ For a split sec­ond, I thought, I can’t, it’s Christ­mas to­mor­row!

Then my heart skipped a beat as I re­alised this was the phone call that could save my life! ‘Of course!’ I replied. Then Mum looked at the Christ­mas tree, sur­rounded by presents.

‘Do you want to take some gifts with you?’ she asked.

But I was about the get the best gift ever.

‘No,’ I replied. ‘I’ll wait un­til I get home.’

Then we kissed each other good­bye and Peter and I headed to the hos­pi­tal.

As we ar­rived, it felt so

In­stead of ex­chang­ing gifts, I was go­ing down to theatre!

sur­real. There was tinsel ev­ery­where, and the lady in the bed op­po­site had her own lit­tle, sparkling Christ­mas tree.

But I didn’t get my hopes up, know­ing there was a 30 per cent chance the liver wouldn’t be right for me. That night, the doc­tors ran lots of tests, and Peter stayed with me through­out.

Wak­ing up on Christ­mas morn­ing, in­stead of ex­chang­ing gifts as we usu­ally would, at 9am, I was taken down to theatre by the nurses.

‘Go home, get some sleep and en­joy your Christ­mas din­ner,’ I told Peter as I kissed him good­bye.

The op­er­a­tion took 10 hours, dur­ing which sur­geons cut me open from just be­low my chest to my hip, and re­moved my liver, which was huge and swollen.

Then they trans­planted the donor liver in its place.

Af­ter they stitched me up, I was kept se­dated while doc­tors made sure every­thing was work­ing prop­erly. When I opened my eyes again, it was 11am on Box­ing Day. I’d missed the whole of Christ­mas Day, but I wasn’t in the least bit both­ered. ‘The op’s been a suc­cess,’ doc­tors beamed. ‘You’ve taken to the new liver re­ally well.’ De­spite be­ing in In­ten­sive Care, I was eu­phoric – felt bet­ter than I had for years.

And, af­ter just 10 days, I was al­lowed home with my anti-re­jec­tion med­i­ca­tion and im­mune sup­pres­sants.

Peter, Mum and I opened our presents to­gether.

To be hon­est, I can’t even re­mem­ber what I got, be­cause every­thing paled into in­signif­i­cance com­pared to my new liver.

Then I thought of my donor, and the fam­ily who’d sat down to Christ­mas din­ner with some­one close miss­ing from their table that year. I was in­cred­i­bly grate­ful. I had to go for reg­u­lar check­ups af­ter the op­er­a­tion – and, even now, two years on, I still go ev­ery three months. But the scar has faded.

Now, I’m work­ing as a pri­mary teacher, I’m mar­ried to Peter, and I’m health­ier than ever.

Thanks to the trans­plant, I’ve a greater chance of be­ing able to have chil­dren one day, too.

I’m just so thank­ful to my donor and her fam­ily.

My new liver re­ally is the Christ­mas present that keeps on giv­ing. ● If you would like to join the or­gan-donor reg­is­ter, check out or­gan­do­na­

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