As one of 27 people on the heart transplant waiting list, turning off her phone wasn’t an option. She is on constant alert for the vital call to tell her to pack her bag as a suitable donor has been found.
“I was allergic to the fanfare of New Year’s Eve. The thing was that 2004 was supposed to be my year. That’s what everyone kept on saying last year and I really believed them. Normally, I’m good at putting on a front but this Christmas has been hard as I know that I’m much sicker. Time is running out.”
The 29-year-old from Bishopstown in Cork spent weeks in hospital in the run-up to Christmas because of a chest infection and dropped blood pressure.
Isabel has been on the waiting list for 13 months. She has a congenital heart defect which means most of her day is spent hooked up to an oxygen tank.
She was given a transplant assessment in 2003 when doctors felt she would only live for another two years without one.
Her sleep is fitful and she often stays in bed until midday, too weak to move or because the pain is too severe. “The chest pain is like someone is sitting on me and trying to smother me but also stabbing me. It’s awful but I’ve learnt to live with it and just get though it. Now, I just try and relax into it as the painkillers don’t make any difference at this stage.”
This year, just seven heart transplants have taken place compared to 18 last year. Doctors have said the fall-off in donors could be partly related to controversy over retention of organs but others say such a viewpoint is “simplistic”.
Isabel, formerly a beauty therapist, now passes her days watching DVDs, television and reading magazines. She’s not in the state of mind to read books.
Isabel is one of five grown-up children. She lives at home with her parents, Oliver and Deirdre.
To preserve her energy, her family won’t allow her climb the stairs or even make a cup of tea.
She can’t really go out at night anymore and if she’s out by day, she has to be wrapped up in several layers of clothing because sometimes she turns blue in the current temperatures.
“Sometimes I think the fight is gone out of me but I can’t let that happen, can I? I went to Waterford for two days last week to see a friend. We had a great time but even sitting in a car means that I’m wrecked for days afterwards,” she said. “I am appealing to people to get a donor card and consider offering relatives’ organs for donations. Carrying a donor card can make such a difference and getting it will just take two minutes out of your day.”
Donor cards can be obtained at pharmacies, hospitals and from the Irish Kidney Association at locall 1890-456-556.