SINCE Isabel Terry and I met two years ago, she has started sporting a twin diamond sapphire to match the pink one her father bought for her.
“Dad bought me the pink sapphire ring when I decided to go on the transplant list,” says Isabel.
“He said if I agreed to go on the list; he would buy me a sapphire ring. He and I went everywhere together. After my operation, I was so very tired, I felt like giving up,” says Isabel.
“Mum was by my side all the time, showing me pictures of loved ones. She told me not to give up on myself. When she showed me a photo of us with dad, I believe that I smiled for the first time.”
And she is smiling now, sparkling with a new promising lease of life since she underwent a rare double lung and heart transplant after a record wait of 15 years, stunning the medics in the Freeman Hospital, Newcastle.
“The medical team thought I might not survive the double transplant operation,” says Isabel.
“I was told before the operation that there was a 40% success rate.”
Isabel was born with pulmonary atresia, a birth defect of the pulmonary valve in the heart, and she was on bottled oxygen 24 hours a day.
“I remember waking up when I was 41 and thinking; my life is crap,” says Isabel. “Where did all the time go? I was in limbo.”
The 43-year-old from Bishopstown is in seventh heaven now, especially since the romantic proposal from her fiance Philip that took place up in the sky.
“Philip proposed to me on a hot-air balloon!” says Isabel. “We were in Philadelphia visiting my brother, Robert, for the first time in six years as well, so it was a fabulous trip.”
And it was a trip without the usual trappings that reminded Isabel of her previous plight.
“I didn’t have to bring the oxygen bottle with me,” she says. “I have way more energy. I wake in the morning, get out of bed, shower, put on my make-up, get dressed, go out for lunch. I can do all the normal things that other women do every day without getting out of breath and having to go back to bed for hours.
“I can’t climb mountains, but I can get around more easily and I am healthy. Looking back now, I realise just how sick I was. In 2003, I was given between six to 12 months to live. When Philip and I recently went back to Newcastle and saw the staff and the staff in the ICU, they could not believe how well I was. One of them said to me; who are you? I only left in December!”
And one of them won a bet.
“The team of 26 medics in Newcastle who discussed my case about my being a suitable recipient for the donor’s heart and lungs, thought I might not make it and that I could reject the organs,” says Isabel.
“They knew I had huge family support and a real will to live. I met one of the medical team in May. He said; I knew you’d make it. I won the bet! I said; ‘Really’? And he said, ‘Yes’.
“The team fought tooth and nail for me,” says Isabel. “The future is looking great.”
Isabel fought tooth and nail to live. She had her first open heart surgery when she was just three weeks old. The brave Cork woman suffered the heartbreak of five unsuccessful calls for organ transplant between 2003 and 2009.
In 2009 her condition worsened when she required a heart and a double lung transplant. Overcoming the complex surgery, known as a ‘block’, Isabel survived a post-op stroke, a cardiac arrest and kidney failure.
“I was lucky enough to get a new heart and new lungs, and I am so lucky the operation was successful,” says Isabel.
“I knew that I would be so grateful. I realise that I am walking around because someone else donated their heart and lungs to me. Before, I was just existing; in bed for over 20 hours a day. I know there is so much ahead of me.”
She knows someone is looking out for her, urging and encouraging her to live her life to the full.
“I know dad is looking down on me. It could have all gone wrong, after the stroke, cardiac arrest and kidney failure,” says Isabel. “I was very, very sick then.”
She could have given up the fight she had fought since birth.
“I felt like I had enough,” says Isabel. “I wanted to die. Mum said ‘No. I haven’t had enough’. I asked her to let me go. I was so exhausted and in so much pain. Please Mum, I begged. She said to me; you’ve fought for 42 years. Don’t give up.
“My sister Julie said, ‘No, you are not going to die’. My mother, Julie and Philip saved my life, not only my donor.”
Isabel has an important legacy to continue.
“I am going to mind and cherish these organs that my donor gave to me,” says Isabel.
“And I’m going to grab the good things in life with both hands. I was so afraid that I had no future. I thought a ring on my finger could never happen. I was so sick a year and a half ago.”
She is keeping her promises.
“When I was in Spain in May, I swam in a pool for the first time in eight years. Before, when I went to Lanzarote, someone had to help me to the shallow end and I’d just dip in and out of the water,” says Isabel.
“I’d make it to the sun bed and just lie down. I’d have to be helped with the towel and someone would have to get me a drink.”
She has come a long way since then; “This time on holidays with Philip, I walked a couple of kilometres to the marina for a stroll and I went up and down 100 steps. I am doing so well.
“I won’t be doing the mini-marathon, but I can walk around the Tesco aisle and I don’t need help getting in and out of the car.”
She must feel like a million dollars? Isabel smiles.
“I give myself a pat on the back now and again.”