Allison Kerr received a heart transplant last year – and elder sibling Karen Owens now needs the same lifesaving operation.
Two Lanarkshire sisters requiring heart transplants have told how they have supported each other throughout a year of shielding and uncertainty.
Allison Kerr received a heart transplant last year at the NHS Golden Jubilee hospital; while elder sibling Karen Owens was placed on the waiting list in November after being told she too will need a new heart to survive.
Both have the congenital condition familial dilated cardiomyopathy, which sadly led to the death of their father in 2005 – and Allison said: “I hope my sister can have the same gift of life that I’ve been given.”
Coatbridge resident Allison, 54, said: “I went from being told I was getting a defibrillator on my 40th birthday to being told I needed a transplant on my 50th; but with my new heart I now have my 60th birthday to look forward to.
“Without it I simply wouldn’t be here and I have so many people to thank for that, not least my donor.
“Having a transplant is so life-changing, it’s really hard to put into words. It’s overwhelming to think that someone would actually give me their heart so that I can have a chance of living when they have died.
“They will never know how grateful my family and I are for what they have done.”
She added: “It’s really mind-blowing being told you need a new heart. My dad was ill from a young age and he died aged 61.
“We had no idea at that point there would be anything wrong with us. Our younger twin brothers are unaffected by it.”
Karen, of Airdrie, was diagnosed with the same heart condition in 2008 and had a defibrillator fitted four years ago, before being placed on the transplant waiting list late last year.
The 57-year-old is hoping her chances of receiving a new heart will increase under the new opt-out system which came into effect in Scotland last month, aimed at boosting the number of organs available for transplant.
She said: “I saw how Allison had deteriorated in the year before she received her transplant; I think I knew it was inevitable it was going to happen to me after the journey she had.
“You try to put it to the back of your mind because you don’t want it to be true, but you know deep down.
“When you lie down in bed and can hear your heart beating sometimes, when mine skips a beat which it does due to the condition we have, I pray to get a new heart.
“But then I stop myself and think I’m being selfish because someone will die to give me a heart. It’s mixed emotions.”
Prior to facing their health challenges, the inseparable sisters took on intrepid charity challenges in aid of St Andrew’s Hospice where Allison was an administration clerk – tackling 5k and 10k runs, climbing the Bens of Scotland, the Mournes of Northern Ireland and the Canadian Rockies.
Now they have both been shielding throughout the coronavirus pandemic; but are encouraging each other to remain positive and are looking forward to spending time with the whole family when restrictions allow.
Karen said: “When Allison got her transplant I was part of her care and there all the time, but from last March I haven’t touched her.
“We do go to the supermarket together but we’re like socially-distanced snipers, peering round aisles to make sure they’re empty before we make our way down; we’re terrified so we haven’t had any physical contact or gone near anyone since March.
“Shielding has been really tough and my allotment has been my saving grace in terms of getting out because at the start of lockdown I was really scared.
“I’m out in the fresh air there which is a big plus, and it’s good for my mental health, but it’s been a tough time in every way.”
Allison has two stepsons and three grandchildren, who she has not been able to see properly for 16 months, and said:
She said: “My husband, William, has completely shielded with me. Sometimes the boys come to the door with the grandkids, but just to be able to hug them again will be amazing.
“Karen and I see each other nearly every single day, staying ‘two Alsatians apart’ as we say.”
NHS Golden Jubilee consultant transplant cardiologist Dr Jane Cannon said: “To see people like Allison who have been seriously ill receive the gift of life and go home to their families, is always the end goal and is the most rewarding part of the job.
“This is all thanks to organ donors whose humanity and selflessness makes this possible.”
She said of the new opt-out donation law – meaning the presumption will be that people have given consent for organs and tissues to be donated after their death unless they have stated otherwise: “The aim is to increase the availability of donor organs and save the lives of more patients.
“It’s estimated that approximately 500 patients are on the organ waiting list in Scotland at any one time and unfortunately some do not survive until the time that the suitable donor organ becomes available.
“People still have that choice to make and it is important to discuss this issue with your family and friends so that your wishes regarding organ donation are known.”
Transplant recipient Allison said: “I often say to my husband that I cannot believe that I’m alive, but not with the heart I was born with. Life should never be taken for granted.”
Transplant News Sharing // “Heart Transplants” – Google News from Source www.dailyrecord.co.uk