Night before Christmas
I got a life-changing phone call – on Christmas Eve…
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 organdonation.nhs.uk
This pressie wasn’t under the tree...