Some people run marathons after their transplant but my goal was to be able to walk our six dogs every day and I achieved that three months after my transplant.
Vicki Kennedy was born with cystic fibrosis (CF), an inherited life-threatening genetic disorder that affects a number of organs in the body (especially the lungs and pancreas) by clogging them with thick, sticky mucus.
In the lungs this can cause shortness of breath, a chronic cough and repeated chest infections. If the blockages affect the pancreas this will reduce or stop enzymes from being released to digest food, causing problems with poor weight gain and malnutrition due to malabsorption.
Vicki lives in Oamaru and has spent many years maintaining her health with the assistance of the Christchurch Hospital respiratory team. "The team make you feel like they truly care about you," says Vicki. "The ward becomes like a home away from home with the care of the doctors, nurses and moral and financial support of the CF association and CF friends."
In October 2010, at age 48, Vicki was listed on the active list for a new set of lungs. Needing a lung transplant came as no surprise to Vicki. Fortunately, after an eight month wait, she received a life-changing phone call from the heart and lung recipient co-ordinator at 10.30am. At the time Vicki was on the work phone so was unable to answer her mobile. Her husband Wayne had been called and he came to her work to tell Vicki they had received 'the call'.
"My reaction was 'what call?' He said 'you know the call.' I still didn't know what he was talking about until he said 'the lung transplant call!' Everyone at work was very excited. The pilot of the plane phoned and said he was fuelling up and would be in Oamaru at 1.30pm to pick us up. We sped home and collected my already packed bag and headed out to the airport with ten minutes to spare before the plane taxied in."
"We were thinking of the donor family on the way up. I was not nervous or worried as I knew that I was ready for my new life," said Vicki.
They arrived at Auckland Hospital at 16:45 and Vicki was admitted to the operating theatre immediately. At 18:15 she was wheeled into the theatre and nine hours later she was wheeled into intensive care.
By 11.30am the following morning Vicki was breathing on her own. "I remember looking at my hands and my nails were pink and I had lost that grey look. My lips and cheeks were pink to the point that I looked like I had make up on. I was up the next day sitting in a chair and three days later I had my first shower and was walking around the wards. Ten days after the op I was walking in the Auckland gardens with my family. How amazing is that?"
"Prior to the lung transplant CF had forced my body to become accustomed to less oxygen. I was breathing with a capacity of 20% lung function and on oxygen 24/7 and I now have a lung function of 70%. When I took that first breath after my surgery, it was euphoric. There are few things in life better than being able to breathe. I feel like I am driven by an Energizer battery and I can just keep going and going," explains Vicki.
"Some people run marathons after their transplant, but my goal was to be able to walk our six dogs every day and I achieved that three months after my transplant. I was back at work full-time ninety days after receiving my new lungs."
"Wayne and I have spent the last fifteen months since my transplant being very busy. We have re-landscaped the front garden, painted the laundry, bathroom, and bedrooms and are enjoying all the extra quality time we have with our dogs. I think he is a bit over the list of jobs!"
Vicki's donor is never far from her thoughts. "Please know that the lovely lady who gave me the gift of life is my hero. I literally owe my life to her and her family, who had the bravery and strength to allow this procedure to take place in the midst of their grief. I have always loved life and my life was great prior to the lung transplant even though I had to have strength to deal with the ups and downs of living with CF. Life is now amazing and I know that my donor is with me every day, literally, with every breath I take."
Recipients are able to communicate anonymously with their donor families via letters sent through the recipient and donor co-ordinators and Vicki recently wrote a thank you letter to her donor family and received a lovely reply.
"I was thrilled to know that my donor was also a great animal lover and had many waifs, strays and pets in her life. I feel grateful that we have this in common."
Expand to read more