THE 67-YEARS old South Sligo woman who is now the worlds longest living single lung transplant patient will be giving thanks this weekend when she celebrates the 20th anniversary of what was the first ever operation of its kind. On May 18th, 1988, with only days to live, Vera Dwyer, Carrowcrory, Keash, had the history-making surgery in Harefield Hospital, London, afterBy HARRY KEANEY
THE 67-YEARS old South Sligo woman who is now the world’s longest living single lung transplant patient will be giving thanks this weekend when she celebrates the 20th anniversary of what was the first ever operation of its kind.
On May 18th, 1988, with only days to live, Vera Dwyer, Carrowcrory, Keash, had the history-making surgery in Harefield Hospital, London, after developing fibrosis alveolitis.
By then, she had already spent two years in bed and was on oxygen 24 hours a day.
Her husband, Michael, and four young children — Paul, Della, Linda and the youngest, Finbarr, who was 11 at the time — kept her going.
"Trying to stay alive for them . . . that’s what kept me going" she said.
"When I got them reared, I wanted to see them get married. Then I wanted to see my grandchildren. Now I have six grandchildren — Amy, Cillian, Eoin, Evan, James and Sara — and I want to see my great-grandchildren. I am pushing the goals out further again."
Speaking publicly for the first time about her heroic ordeal, Vera hopes her story will not only encourage people who are awaiting transplants, as well as those who already have had transplants, but also that it will raise awareness of the importance of organ donors.
"What I am looking for are organ donors. Without my organ donor, who I pray for every day, I would be long gone," she told The Sligo Champion during an interview Monday evening last in the sun-lit kitchen of her home in Carrowcrory.
She felt it was vital that people carried their own organ donor card, adding that she had had "a great life" since she received her transplant all of two decades ago.
"My lung is very healthy and I have travelled and did everything I wanted to," she said.
On this Saturday, Vera, her family, and all those who helped her along the way, will gather for what will indeed be a very special celebration. It will begin with Mass at 5 o’clock in St. Kevin’s Church in Keash, followed by a party in the Coach House Hotel in Ballymote.
Until she became ill more than 20 years ago, the young Vera Waldron, a native of Heathfield, Castleplunkett, Co Roscommon, had never been a day sick in her life. She never smoked and was "into sport as a child."
"Next thing, my two lungs started to die," she said. "They tested me for everything and nothing was coming up. At the time, they had no cause for it."
Eventually, doctors put her condition down to fibrosis alveolitis.
"My two lungs kept dying until they were all gone," she said.
On May 15th, 1988, she was taken to Harefield Hospital to be assessed. On seeing her, medical staff there said she had only days to live.
Also in the hospital at the time were two other patients awaiting organ transplants.
Up until then, all lung transplants were done in conjunction with the transplant of another organ, such as a heart. But on May 18th, 1988, two transplant donors, a boy of 18 and a girl of 24, became available with organs that were suitable for all three patients — and so Vera received a lung, the pioneering operation having been carried out by the eminent Egyptian surgeon, Sir Magdi Yacoub.
"It was the first time ever there was a single lung transplant," she explained.
She remained in Harefield Hospital from May to the end of October 1988, having been on a ventilator for much of that time.
"But before I left the hospital they were doing single lungs, turning them out in a period of seven to 10 days," she said.
As well as emphasizing the importance of donors, she also paid tribute to all those who have helped her: the staff in Sligo General Hospital, and those in the heart and lung unit in Dublin, including her consultant, Dr. Jim Egan, all of whom had "been brilliant," she said.
She is also seeking support for a group of consultants from the Mater Hospital in Dublin who are undertaking a fundraising cycle on June 4th in the Wicklow Mountains to raise funds for cystic fibrosis awareness.
Recently, one of Vera’s kidneys has failed, necessitating dialysis. However, she explained that this was one of the effects of the lung transplant rejection drugs but ever the optimist, she is hoping that in time, she may get a kidney transplant.