Five years on from a double lung transplant, Oamaru woman Vicki Kennedy is healthier than she has ever been.
Ms Kennedy (54) was born with cystic fibrosis centred in her lungs, but triumphed over adversity and is now an organ donor advocate.
She was one of three siblings who all suffered from the debilitating genetic condition that meant the body created mucus inside their organs.
Ms Kennedy said that was one of the reasons why women who had cystic fibrosis found it difficult to conceive.
She was born in Christchurch and her parents encouraged her into sport, with a particular emphasis on swimming. As an adult and organ transplant survivor, she has no plans to take up any sport soon, but is achieving her aim of being able to walk her family’s dogs twice a day.
She said what helped her through the tough times with the disorder was a strong personality and a great support crew that she found in family and friends.
“I never really let it hold me back.”
After school, she embarked on a nursing career, but had to give that up as management became concerned about how her job would affect her health.
She moved to a career in retail, where she found supportive bosses who backed her and worked around her regime of hospital visits.
One day at work, she was told a lung donor who fitted her needs had become available.
“My first reaction was, `I’ve got to go home and wax my legs’.”
Once she arrived in Auckland and was taken to hospital, she had about five people prepare her for surgery.
She was given a plethora of drugs, and as she checked her medication, she noticed a Viagra tablet, and was told it was used as a blood-thinning medication.
“How unfair is that? I’ll be unconscious for 24 hours and not know what it was like.”
She went into surgery and later woke with the lungs of a 50-year-old woman who was an animal lover.
Ms Kennedy said she sent a note to the family of the donor explaining who she was and to say thank you.
A key learning experience from the process was the need for people to talk about organ donation, she said.
“People need to discuss with their families about becoming donors. If there is someone not ready for it, they won’t use the body parts.”
Also, there was a belief by some that they would be too old to donate organs, but the age limit was somewhere in the 80s, she said.
Within days of receiving her new lungs, Ms Kennedy’s body’s appearance changed as oxygen circulated at a higher rate than before.
“My lips and eyelids were grey, but with oxygen pumping through, it was all pink.”
Once back in Oamaru, she returned her unused medication to Oamaru Hospital and started exploring her new life.
“All I wanted to do was come home and walk my dogs.
“I walk my dogs twice a day. Once in the morning and once at night.”
For more information about cystic fibrosis, call Cystic Fibrosis New Zealand on 0800 651-122, or to find out more about becoming an organ donor, contact Organ Donation New Zealand on 0800 436-667.
EDITOR’S NOTE: “Cystic fibrosis has never put a dampener on her amazing attitude, and after an organ transplant, Vicki’s healthier than she’s ever been.” – Melanie Tavendale