Double lung transplant patient Debra Barlow won't let her second chance slip by

debra for webSeptember 6, 2017

The Trust is launching our organ donation campaign for 2017 this week (4 – 10 September) as part of Organ Donation Week.  

During the week the Trust is holding a three day information stand at King’s Mill Hospital. The stand will be set up in the King’s Mill Treatment Centre from Wednesday 6 September – Friday 8 September and will have information about organ donation, with a number of specialists and organ donation recipients on hand to speak to people about what a difference donating can make. The poster competition for 2017 will also be launched on Friday 8 September.

Double lung transplant patient Debra Barlow knows only too well what a difference a donor can make, here she tells her story:

Debra underwent a double lung transplant in 2015. Now under the shared care of Freeman Hospital, Newcastle, and King’s Mills Hospital consultants, she is on the road to recovery.

She said: I woke one Saturday morning feeling unwell, but like most people I thought little of it and got on with looking after my 11-year-old son Laeth, who was recovering from chicken pox.

Four days later I was taken to the Emergency Department at King’s Mill Hospital with severe breathing difficulties.

I was put on a ventilator and spent the next three months either heavily sedated or in a drug-induced coma.

My family was told on at least two occasions that I wasn’t going to survive.

I had contracted chicken pox pneumonia – my lungs were severely damaged and for the next nine years I was never far from an oxygen cylinder.

It all started in April 2006 and by the end of the summer I had gone from an independent woman to relying heavily on others, and being oxygen dependent.

Friends, family and my employers were all very supportive but suddenly, at the age of 41, my life had become very daunting and I was terrified.

Eventually, I had to retire from work as my health continued to decline.

I was first assessed for a lung transplant in 2008 but after four days of assessments at the Freeman Hospital in Newcastle they told me I wasn’t poorly enough. It wasn’t until May 2015 that I was finally accepted on to the waiting list for a transplant.

It would be another five months before I found myself waiting to be wheeled into an operating theatre. The call had come at 7.50am. A donor had been found – a 46-year-old woman – and, following a flashing lights ambulance trip and a helicopter flight from King’s Mill to Newcastle, I was ready.

Three weeks later I was out of hospital and, 23 months on, here I am, breathing without the need for extra oxygen. There is still a long way to go but in July, I took part in the British Transplant Games in Liverpool, completing the three-kilometre Donor Walk.

I have frequent visits to the Institute of Transplantation at the Freeman, and consultant Dr Nabeel Ali’s respiratory clinics at King’s Mill Hospital, but I will not allow these clinic visits to get in the way of making the most of my new life.

My family, particularly my son Laeth, went through so much during my illness and I want to use this second chance to make the most of our future.

I would urge everyone, young and old, to consider joining the register but – if they do – it is just as important that they talk to their families about their wishes.

Often during the difficult aftermath of a death relatives say no, even though their loved one is on the register. I have been given a second chance of life because a family were so generous in their grief. I just hope others can do the same. 

Joining the organ donation register

Joining the NHS Blood and Transplant Service’s Organ Donation Register is simple. Visit www.organdonation.nhs.uk and fill out your details. You can also register at the same time as you apply to the DVLA for a driving licence. Or you can telephone 0300 123 23 23.

The website has frequently asked questions and a myth-busting section to help explain exactly what joining the register means.

It also encourages people to talk to their relatives about their decision and how they can support your decision in the event of your death.