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Last Updated: Saturday, 7 July 2007, 23:28 GMT 00:28 UK
'Each breath I take is so precious'
By Jane Elliott
Health reporter, BBC News

Emily Thackray
Emily on her first beach trip after her transplant
"From the first breath each morning I savour my life and enjoy it to the full," says Emily Thackray, who has cystic fibrosis (CF).

Seven months ago Emily had just weeks to live.

She had just celebrated what she believed would be her last Christmas, she had written her will and organised her end of life care.

She was on the transplant list but, although she remained hopeful of new lungs, she was well aware she could die waiting.

When the BBC News website spoke to Emily last year she was desperate for the chance to live again, saying she could do virtually nothing and was on oxygen 24 hours a day.

'Last chance'

Now after a double lung transplant, she is recovering well and rediscovering her life, full of gratitude to the family whose donated organ made her new lease of life possible.

"I had a massive lung collapse last summer/autumn and the doctors told me that I had used my last chance," she said.

"I was so ill over Christmas that I could not even open my presents and just had to lie there."

It was so long since I had been able to breathe that I just savour each breath
Emily Thackray

Because there are so few organs available for transplant, the chances of someone like Emily dying while on the waiting list are 50/50.

But on 4 January this year she got the call that there was a suitable donor organ.

"I just burst into tears," said Emily, who immediately began to prepare herself to journey from Surrey to Harefield Hospital, in Middlesex.

"You get just minutes to decide whether you want the organ.

"You start thinking this could be the operation that kills or cures me."

Emily Thackray with the medication she used to take
Emily needed oxygen and regular medication

But within half an hour Emily got the call that the donor family had changed their minds and were unlikely to change it back and allow the lungs to be used.

"I was absolutely crushed," she said.

"I could understand, but I was beside myself."

Forty minutes later the call came back that they had changed their minds again and that the operation could go ahead.

Life 'unrecognisable'

"My operation took nine hours - that is much longer than normal, but it was made more complicated due to the fact that I had previous surgery to patch my lungs up.

"My recovery had several setbacks as I had several infections, pneumonia and I became septic."

But in March she was released from hospital.

"My life is absolutely unrecognisable now," she said.

Britain lags behind European countries in terms of the number of people able to benefit from lung transplantation
Dr Martin Carby

"It was so long since I had been able to breathe that I just savour each breath.

"There is so much more to my life. I can jump and walk.

"I have even been to the gym. OK I was walking when everyone else was running, but it was a start.

"I went to France on a day trip - the first time I have been abroad for four years. To be able to go abroad and not have the constraints of oxygen is great."

Initial tests show Emily is progressing well, but she says she knows she owes a big debt to the donor family who saved her life.

"I have lost so many friends to CF and I am very much aware of how few organs there are. I am just grateful for this gift of life."

And she urged people to start thinking now whether they were willing to become organ donors rather than leaving their family to make the difficult decision in a tragedy.

Weakened state

Dr Martin Carby, consultant respiratory physician at Harefield who helped care for her, said Emily's had been a very difficult operation.

"The surgery, performed by Mr Mario Petrou, was tough.

"Emily's lungs were difficult to remove as repeated infections and collapses had created scars on the surface of her lungs, binding them to the chest wall."

He said Emily had been in such a weakened state before her operation, that her recovery had been slow.

But he said this could have been improved if more organs were available to treat patients like Emily sooner.

"Britain lags behind European countries in terms of the number of people able to benefit from lung transplantation.

"In my opinion, for a long time there was an underinvestment both in terms of medical and public education in the area of organ procurement and transplantation and also in terms of healthcare infrastructure."

National transplant week this year is July 7-14.

'I could die waiting for lungs'
08 Jul 06 |  Health


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