LONG before the Covid-19 pandemic crash-landed into our lives, thousands of people in Ireland were living with conditions like cancer, Crohn’s disease, lupus, and many other conditions that weakened or compromised their immune system.
Isabel Terry, one of the only people in Ireland requiring a double lung and heart transplant who had a 14- year wait for the operation, is one of those people.
She underwent a double lung and heart transplant in September, 2017, at the Freemount Hospital, Newcastle in the UK.
“I’m pretty used to living in isolation,” says Isabel, 44, who had three open heart surgeries between 1975 and 2001, the first operation taking place when she was just three weeks old.
“Spending months in hospital, I became very familiar with the ICU unit,” says Isabel.
“Risk of infection was always high for me.”
Since childhood, Isabel’s life was different to that of her three brothers and two sisters.
She still got a bike and roller blades though.
“I used to cycle on the carpet in the lounge at home!” she says, laughing at the memory, speaking to me on the phone from her home in Bishopstown where she is cocooning.
“Before the transplant operation, I was on 24 hour oxygen and loads of medication for pain relief.”
Her life was always in the balance.
“I was given 6-9 months to live back in 2003,” says Isabel.
“It seems amazing that I’m still alive!”
Isabel is very much alive and well, cocooning with her fiancé, Philip; she is looking forward, planning their wedding next year when she will walk proudly down the aisle.
“Philip is working from home,” says Isabel.
“It’s good that we can spend some quality time together.
“And he is taking good care of me. I have a sore ankle that requires surgery in the Mater Hospital in Dublin so I’m not very mobile and I’m on steroids,” says Isabel.
“I can’t bear weight on the ankle or stand up, so it’s a bit of a nuisance. Right now, there is a bit of a wait for the joint surgery because it isn’t safe going to hospital.”
Like all of us living in strange times during the pandemic, Isabel is missing her nearest and dearest.
“It’s a bit different not seeing my friends and family,” says Isabel.
“I don’t get to visit them so we’re talking over the phone and using Face Time.
“I’m very close to my mum. She was always by my side. That’s always made me feel safe.”
She feels like everybody else restricted by Covid-19.
“Even though I’m not working, I feel my independence is taken away. I used to like driving over to visit my friends.”
In recent times. the acute awareness of infection has become second nature in Ireland, but for Isabel it has always been a part of her life.
Having had a successful double lung and heart transplant three years ago, because she is immunocompromised, she must remain vigilant, avoiding infection and illness.
How is she spending her time?
“I’m chilling, reading a lot.”
“No. Philip is doing the cooking! I do some baking though. I like that. Baking is therapeutic.”
Philip is an all-rounder.
“He’s doing the spring cleaning too!”
Doing nothing all day is not a strange living arrangement for Isabel. “It’s not strange for me,” she says.
“Taking it easy is normal for me.
“Before my double lung and heart transplant I couldn’t do much because I was so weak. If I had a shower I’d be out of breath.”
But as a young fun-loving girl with an appetite for life, she tried to fit into the mould, living the life she was given.
“When I socialised, even if went out for an hour and I had one drink, I paid for it the next day and the following days,” says Isabel.
She has a stubborn streak that saw her survive a gruelling 12-hour operation under a 30-strong surgical team. The stark facts show 30% of double lung and heart transplant patients do not survive. There is a 70% rate of survival.
“I didn’t want to give in. I have a stubborn streak!” she Isabel.
She likes her style.
“I loved going to the Brown Thomas sales. But if I went shopping for an hour or so, I’d be totally wiped out. I lost all my energy.”
Now she has a chance to reboot, recharge and rest.
“I’m even giving my skin a chance; not wearing any make-up!” says Isabel.
The young woman is so grateful to her organ donor, and protects and respects her organs, and is looking forward to living a long and active life.
“We all have to go by the measures that the Government have laid out,” says Isabel of Covid-19.
“It is the best way to get us though this and to save lives.
“I am always aware it was through other people that my life was saved.”
Isabel, full of the joys of life, would like to go to the shop.
“But I wouldn’t risk that,” says Isabel. “I’ve been staying in since March 7. People’s lives are at stake. My life was saved already.”
Philip is a life-saver.
“Oh, he has dinner ready and he’s made a chocolate cake,” says Isabel.
Any chance of borrowing him in the near future?
“No chance!” says Isabel.
We all have to go by the measures that the Government have laid out. It is the best way to get us through this and to save lives. I’m aware it was through other people my life was saved.