Wednesday 23 January 2019

'Thank you for saving my life'

Jenny McCudden

Thirty years ago this week Vera Dwyer had a single lung transplant thanks to the fundraising efforts of her close knit community in Keash.

Today the 77-year-old who is the longest living single lung transplant patient in the world wants to say a heartfelt thanks to each and every person in Sligo and beyond who helped to keep her alive.

Mother of four Vera has even featured in the Guinness Book of World Records as she says: "I have my certificate framed on the wall."

She enjoys a full life with seven grandchildren and two great-grandchildren but back in May 1987 things looked extremely bleak.

Speaking from her home near Keash yesterday (Monday) Vera told the Sligo Champion: "It was a life or death situation. It was either travel to the UK for the transplant or die."

Vera developed breathing difficulties after the birth of her youngest son. For years doctors were treating her for suspected TB and in the end she was advised that a lung transplant was the only option for survival.

At the time these operations were not done in Ireland and Vera had to travel to London.

Efforts were then made to fundraise for Vera and her young family and as Vera says, if it was not for the generosity of people, and indeed her donors, she would not be alive today.

"When I got to London, I was taken by ambulance at Heathrow to the hospital," Vera recalls, "The consultant who assessed me said I was so ill, I only had days to live. Fortunately a donor came in that was suitable for me, another girl and a young boy. I got one lung, the other patients got a lung and a heart, but I was the only patient that survived."

The operation was the first ever split lung transplant in the world, says Vera who still finds it 'so unbelievable that she has got 30 years out of the transplant lung.'

Everyday Vera is grateful for having had the chance to see her children grow up, and to meet her grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

"Only for the donors, I would long be gone. I would ask everyone to carry a donor card," says Vera.

The spirited woman who has always had a positive disposition has a word of encouragement too for all those awaiting transplant operations: "Think positive, look how good I am. I have had a full life. I've just wanted to live to see my grand-kids. I've more on the way. I'm always asking God for something. Now I'm running out of things to ask for."

Thankfully, Vera says he seems to listen: "Every day I pray for my donors and their families. I'm so lucky to be alive."

This Sligo Grandmother has even confounded the medics: "One of my consultants brings me up still at conferences!" Vera adds: "I want to say a special word of thanks for all of the people who have helped me come this far, all of those who fundraised to get me there and back."

As for getting a second chance at life, Vera stresses: "You have to be positive. You have to be happy. I've travelled - even to the White House in Washington, I look at life, at nature and I'm happy. I stopped taking things for granted."

Sligo Champion