A CORK woman who received a double lung and heart transplant, after a record 15-year wait, marked the anniversary of her surgery by announcing that she is engaged.
Isabel Terry, from Bishopstown, said she had accepted she was going to die, before a complex surgery at the Freeman Hospital, in Newcastle, in England, saved her life.
She survived a post-op stroke, a cardiac arrest, and kidney failure. She defied the odds to fulfil her dreams.
Just recently, her finance, Philip, proposed to her, a moment she described as the icing on the cake, after a life-changing year.
During a hot-air balloon trip in Philadelphia, where they were visiting her brother, Philip asked Isabel to marry him.
“We were up in the air, so there was no kneeling,” Isabel laughed, “but it was really nice.”
The couple recently travelled to the hospital where Isabel underwent her transplant, to meet with the medical team.
“They recognised Philip at first, but not me,” she said.
“After everything that happened, they couldn’t believe I was walking into that ward. The ICU nurses were crying. They said, at the time, that they didn’t think I would make it to Christmas.”
“The surgeon called in his colleague and told me: “This is the man who helped me remove your left lung. It took us 40 minutes to take it out and you were bleeding on the table.
“Seeing me walking into that ward, looking so well, meant a lot to them.”
Just a year before, life had been very different for Isabel, who was born with pulmonary atresia, a form of heart disease in which the pulmonary valve does not form properly.
“Simple things, like showering and meeting friends, were becoming more and more difficult.
“Each time I recovered from being really sick, I found myself a little weaker than I was before. I was deteriorating rapidly.”
She recalled the difficult few months that followed her transplant.
“I wasn’t sleeping. The sounds of the hospital were too much and I hated the times when I was alone. I remember telling my mum ‘I’ve had enough. Please let me die.’
“At that time, I was so tired I didn’t think it was fair. She told me not to give up on myself. If she had told me I could go, I would have died. She was showing me pictures of loved-ones, but I was just shoving them away. It was only when she showed me one with her, dad and I, together, that I smiled for the first time.”
Isabel puts much of her recovery down to her positive attitude and support from her family.
“A lot of people don’t make it, because they just give up.
“There are people who weren’t as sick as me that didn’t make it, because they didn’t have the support I did.”
She has highlighted much of her journey as part of her blog, ‘Life on the List’. Her message around promoting organ donation has had a far-reaching effect.
“A woman contacted me who lost her partner. He was only in his early thirties and she decided to donate his organs, after reading my story.
“I thought that was really amazing.”
She honours the memory of her organ donor every day by living the life she’s always dreamed of.
She spoke of a recent holiday to Spain.
“I swam in a pool for the first time. I walked 100 steps down to the promenade. Before, all these things were in my imagination. Now, I’m living them.
“I still go to pick up my oxygen cylinder, forgetting that I no longer need it.
“There is nothing I will ever be able to say or do that will show just how grateful I am to my donor for the gift they have given me. It’s only now I’m finally ready to write the letter to the family of my donor, to express my gratitude.”
A ring gifted to Isabel by her late father reminds her of how far she has come.
“When I was young, I made a decision not to go on the waiting list. I had already given up when I saw a ring in a brochure for €1000.
“I joked that I was putting it on my Christmas list. Dad told me that if I went on the list he would buy it for me.”
Isabel was so touched by her father’s offer she decided to continue fighting.
“I handed that ring to my mum just after going into theatre. I took it back from her a month ago when it finally fit me again. If there is someone looking after me, it’s definitely my dad.”