Great-granny Vera (73) breaks transplant record
Published 12/08/2014 | 02:30
An IRISH great-grandmother has earned a place in the Guinness Book of World Records as the longest single lung transplant survivor.
Vera Dwyer (73), from Ballinafad in Sligo, was the first to undergo a lung transplant in the Harefield Hospital in Middlesex, England, 26 years ago.
Mrs Dwyer also underwent a kidney transplant five years ago, which she was able to have in Ireland.
The mother of four and grandmother of six is delighted to be a world record holder.
"I'm over the moon because I've pushed my way, not only to see my kids grow up, but also to meet my grandchildren and, wonderfully, a great grandchild Leah, who will be three-years-old next week," she said.
Mrs Dwyer was days away from dying when, in 1988, she received her lung transplant.
"For nearly three years I was bedridden, I couldn't even go to my son's confirmation," she recalled.
"By the time I got sent to the UK, the specialist dealing with my case said if he had known how sick I was, he wouldn't have suggested I even get on a plane."
When Mrs Dwyer first fell ill in the 1980s, doctors originally mistook her breathlessness as an indication that she had Tuberculosis.
However, she was subsequently diagnosed with a respiratory condition - fibrosis alveolistis (progressive thickening of the walls of the air sacs in the lungs).
The Sligo woman admitted that she still prays for the 24-year-old woman, who was the donor of the lung, and her family.
"The rules mean that I'll never be able to meet her family, but I was able to write a letter to them through the transplant co-ordinator and that was important to me," Mrs Dwyer said.
She continued: "Two people have saved my life on two occasions and for that I'm really grateful".
The former factory worker spent three months on life support and had to learn how to talk, walk and eat again.
She said that her determination and general stubbornness is what has gotten her through all the obstacles that she has faced.
"I fell a couple of months back and I broke my arm and my hip, but that hasn't stopped me from walking," she said.
Mrs O'Dwyer didn't even let broken bones get in the way of her making it up to Dublin to see the Brendan O'Carroll film 'Mrs Brown Boys D'Movie'.
After celebrating 50 years of marriage last year, Mrs O'Dwyer's husband, Mike, died at the start of the year from cancer and she admitted that without him, things would have been nearly impossible.
"He was my full-time carer and really, anyone who needs a transplant needs the support of their family," she said.
Mrs O'Dwyer is an avid campaigner for organ donor cards and she recently agreed to be a representative for Transplant360.com, a website that provides information about organ transplants.
"It's a fantastic website that has every bit of information needed by transplant patients, their families and even people thinking of becoming a donor.
"If I could help even one person understand organ donation a little bit more or to encourage someone who is on a waiting list not to give up, I mean why wouldn't I help?" she added.