Isabel Terry has stunned medics — first by overcoming the complex surgery, and then by surviving a post-op stroke, a cardiac arrest, and kidney failure — to be well enough to return home for Christmas.
“I am just so excited now about the rest of my life,” she said.
“And I’m just so excited to be coming home to Cork, where I will be able to see my family and all my friends for Christmas.”
She hopes to fly back to Cork next week where she will be admitted to the Bon Secours hospital for ongoing monitoring and physio.
Speaking exclusively to the Irish Examiner from the Freeman Hospital in Newcastle, Isabel, from Bishopstown in Cork, said she will be forever grateful to her donor and their family.
“There’s nothing you can say to them really — except to say that I’m so lucky to be getting a new lease of life at the age of 42. I’m going to enjoy my life and protect the organs and keep them safe for as long as I can. I’m going to cherish these organs. It’s something I didn’t think I’d ever get.
“After my last assessment in August, I realised I was running out of time. It was the last-chance saloon really. I was getting sicker and I thought someone younger might get the organs. I am just so grateful to the donor’s family. I hope, in time, to write to them and it will be their decision then as to whether or not they will contact me.”
Isabel suffered from pulmonary atresia, a birth defect of the pulmonary valve in the heart, and was on bottled oxygen 24 hours a day.
She was first assessed as needing a heart transplant in 2003 while in the care of the Mater in Dublin. She suffered the heartbreak of five unsuccessful transplant calls between 2003 and 2009.
By 2009. her condition had worsened to the point where she required a heart and double lung transplant.
Her care was transferred to Freeman Hospital whose doctors finally made the phone call in September that has changed Isabel’s life.
She underwent the high-risk surgery — described by doctors as one of the most complex transplants they’ve ever undertaken — in mid-September and spent almost two months in intensive care. She survived multiple complications, including a stroke, cardiac arrest, and kidney failure.
“ICU was very, very scary. I remember hallucinating, talking to people that weren’t there. I had terrible nightmares and couldn’t sleep,” she said.
“There were machines and tubes everywhere. It was scary. But, slowly but surely, I got better.”
Isabel said she has made remarkable progress in the last few weeks in particular.
“I’m not running upstairs yet but one day I took one step; the next day, I took two steps. I walked for a minute today, tomorrow I’ll walk a minute and a half.
“I’m feeling great now. Obviously, I’m not up to full health. There’s a lot of rehab needs to be done. But everyone here is astonished at the progress I’ve made. I still have a bit to go, but all the medical team are quite happy with me from a transplant point of view. I don’t need oxygen anymore, I have more energy, I can stay awake for longer. I’m getting out of bed on my own, I do get a bit out of breath sometimes, after exertion, but I’m getting stronger.
“I have a completely different mindset to what I had just three months ago. I’m excited about the future. The future is looking great.”
Isabel has been charting her journey on her Facebook blog, Life on the List, in the hope of inspiring other people in the same position and of raising awareness about the importance of organ donation.