The 73-year-old from Ballinafad, Co Sligo has been officially certified as “the longest-surviving single lung transplant recipient in the world” by the Guinness Book of Records.
The great-grandmother underwent a pioneering lung transplant operation in the Royal Brompton and Harefield Hospital in London in 1988 after her lungs began to fail because of a condition called fibrosis alveolitis — a progressive thickening of the walls of the air sacs of the lungs. She had just days to live.
Before her diagnosis, she was healthy, fit and played for the County Roscommon camogie team.
“I never smoked a day in my life. I was devastated to learn that my two lungs were failing but I was given one chance [transplantation] and I grabbed it.”
Vera went on to raise four children and has six grandchildren and one great grandchild, three-year-old Leah. “I owed it to my donor to do everything in my power to look after myself after transplantation by following a healthy lifestyle with exercise, eating well and managing my medication,” Vera says. She was one of three persons to receive an organ from a 24-year-old female donor, whose other lung and heart went to two other recipients who have since passed away. In expressing her ongoing gratitude and in celebrating her entry into the Guinness Book of Records, Vera is helping to launch www.Transplant360.com, a web resource which provides information and tips for transplant recipients, their carers and healthcare professionals.
Professor Jim Egan, Respiratory Physician specialising in heart and lung transplants, said the web resource was a vital source of information for the transplant community, containing, among other things in-depth information about how anti-rejection medications work and why it is vital to maintain a strict medication schedule.
“Organ recipients must also be aware of the risk of infection because medications dampen the immune system and Transplant360.com is a vital source of information for the transplant community in helping to manage this,” Prof Egan said.
Mark Murphy, CEO of the Irish Kidney Association said there were “just under 3,000 people in Ireland enjoying extended life because of organ donation resulting in transplantation”.
Last year was a record year for organ donations and transplantations with 18 more transplants performed than in the previous record year (2011). During 2013, 86 deceased donors saved 245 lives and there were 38 kidney transplants through the Living Donor Programme.