An organ donor gave Suzanne the greatest gift, her shot at life.
It’s not every day you are given the opportunity to have a life filled with fulfilment, true love and hope for the future.
But that’s exactly what an unidentified donor gave cystic fibrosis sufferer Suzanne Weaver, 39, when she had a double-lung transplant seven years ago.
The Wellington battler, who has been defying the odds since she was diagnosed with the disease at the age of six weeks, says the operation gave her a future with her family, friends and partner Matthew Lewis, 39.
“All my energy used to be spent trying to say alive,” she says. “Now I have a full-time job, a relationship and I go out with friends – it’s everything I ever dreamed of.”
Cystic fibrosis causes the body’s mucus to thicken, blocking organs such as the lungs, liver, pancreas and intestines. The average lifespan of those with the condition is just 37 – and Suzanne is well aware that she’s outliving the statistics.
“When I was diagnosed, doctors told my parents I wouldn’t live past a year, then when I reached one, they said I’d be lucky if I made it to five, when I was five they said I’d be lucky if I made it to ten, now I’m 39…”
But living with cystic fibrosis is a struggle. Growing up, Suzanne popped more than 20 tablets a day, endured 50 minutes of physiotherapy twice daily and had to spend an hour on a nebuliser (mist spray medicine dispenser) each day just to keep the condition under control.
She played netball and cricket and represented youth council and rotary groups, but developed pseudomonas (a bacterial infection) at 16 when her health took a downward slide. While she completed a degree in sociology, the simple things in life became a challenge.
“I would get severely out of breath and my lips would turn blue from the lack of oxygen.”
By the time she reached her late twenties, Suzanne’s health further deteriorated and medical experts recommended she undergo a double-lung transplant – a procedure often necessary for cystic fibrosis sufferers.
Finally, in 2005 as her lung capacity plunged to just 20 percent, the University Administrator underwent the transplant and was back on the road to doing tasks most of us take for granted such as having a shower, clearing the dishwasher and vacuuming.
Today, the courageous blonde has 90 per cent lung capacity. She works out at a gym, walks, goes for bike rides and has participated in the Round the Bays fun run four times. But the novelty of being able to live her life has never worn off, she says, nor does a day go by when she doesn’t think about the unidentified donor that gave her life back to her.
“I look after these lungs like they are the most important treasure I have ever owned. I feel I have a responsibility to the donor’s family to keep these lungs well looked after and working properly,” she says.
“I would love to thank that family from the bottom of my heart – it’s the greatest gift you could every give another human being.”
That gift has allowed Suzanne to help others – she received a Creon Award in 2009 from the Cystic Fibrosis Association for being a role model for young people. It has allowed her to build a life with IT engineer Matt. “Matt and I are looking forward to buying a house together and marriage is on the cards.”
Although her future looks brighter, Suzanne will not take her improved health for granted.
“It’s important that I get lots of sleep and take medication to suppress my immune system. I have to avoid catching a cold as that could lead to a lung infection or chronic rejection,” she says.
“Cystic Fibrosis is a serious illness and there will always be people that do well and other people that don’t do so well and pass away early.”
By Linda Shackelford, New Idea magazine, July 2012
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