Organ donation

Cheryl - Interview 24

Age at interview: 52

Brief outline: Cheryl was born with transposition of the great vessels. In 1995, she had a heart and lung transplant, aged 36. She had severe depression a year later, but has been well and enjoying life since then.

Background: Cheryl is a volunteer for the Transplant Support Network. She is divorced and has an adult daughter. Ethnic background / nationality' White British.

Audio & video

Cheryl was born with transposition of the great vessels. This is a congenital heart defect in which the two major vessels that carry blood away from the heart – the aorta and the pulmonary artery – are switched (transposed). Growing up, she said she often looked blue, had a pain in her left knee, and had to have annual check-ups.

Despite this, Cheryl said she had a normal childhood in many ways, enjoyed school, and then started work. Like most young people, she went out and had a full social life. She got married and, soon afterwards, wanted to have a child. At this stage, she was told by doctors that, if she wanted children, she should have them by the age of 23. She did not know that doctors were not expecting her to have a long life expectancy, information she appreciated her Mum keeping from her so she could live a normal, happy life.

Cheryl had a daughter at the age of 23. Around 1986, however, Cheryl started becoming increasingly unwell. When exerting herself, she would get extremely severe headaches. Around this time, she also had a blockage in her heart and needed a pacemaker. Two years later, the pacemaker had to be replaced because of a fault.  

In 1990, Cheryl said she swelled up and collapsed. In hospital, doctors held very little hope for her but, when she started improving, they suggested a transplant. In 1991, Cheryl was assessed and told that, without a transplant, she was unlikely to survive more than eighteen months. She realised then how ill she was, started resting more and, reluctantly, using a wheelchair.

Cheryl’s health deteriorated and, soon, she became extremely weak. She said, ‘I lived in an armchair. I couldn’t feed myself. I couldn’t brush my own teeth, brush my hair, go to the bathroom. I couldn’t do anything. I had to be fed. It wasn’t a nice time for me because I’m very independent and it was one of them times where sometimes I wished, I just wished the call would come that I would actually have the transplant, because I wanted to get back to normal.’ 

Cheryl’s first call for a transplant came in 1992 but was cancelled because the organs were unsuitable. She was to have a further seven calls, none however leading to a transplant. Cheryl said, ‘Admittedly, I had eight cancellations. Now that is not a bad thing because I knew that they were waiting for the best organs, because I was having heart/lungs. They needed to be from the same donor, so I knew, because of all these cancellations, they were waiting for the best set of organs that they could have.’

In 1995, three years after waiting, Cheryl had a transplant, aged 36. Her daughter was now 13. Cheryl noticed almost immediately that, for the first time in her life, she had colour in her hands and cheeks. Shortly after the transplant, Cheryl had three seizures and was told by doctors that she’d had undiagnosed epilepsy. She now takes medication for it and it is well controlled. She also said her memory, especially of her daughter’s early years, is very poor. Her legs are also not as strong, her kidneys much less effective, but Cheryl felt this was ‘a small price to pay to be alive’ and said that her heart and lungs were ‘working fabulously’.

In 1996, exactly a year after the transplant, Cheryl felt well physically but the emotional impact of what she’d been through started dawning on her. For the next three years, she went through a severe depression, during which time she did not want to see any friends. She was also reluctant to take anti-depressants and, with hindsight, said it was a phase in her life that she had to get through on her own.

 Since the transplant, Cheryl has been to Australia four times, swam with dolphins, driven a racing car and written a book about her experiences, called Absolutely (available at Amazon). She also did voluntary work in the local hospital for twelve years. She is now a volunteer for Transplant Support Network, a nationwide network that provides telephone support to patients, family and carers of solid organ transplants (http'// 


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