Wendy (r) with fellow transplant athletes Sharon Millen and Philip Cairnduff on her return to Belfast from the 2016 British Transplant Games.
On 28th December 2012 Wendy Howe spent her birthday receiving a liver and kidney transplant at Queen Elizabeth’s Hospital, Birmingham. Very ill since 1998 with a hereditary polycystic kidney disease that compromised her liver, she had been on the transplant waiting list for 18 months. Post-transplant recovery was tough but she was helped through it by the support of her three children, the expertise of medical staff and her dream of returning to Groomsport before the last lapwings left at the end of March. When she got home they were waiting for her.
Before her transplant Wendy’s liver had become so enlarged that she could only sleep propped up by a pillow. Exercise made her breathless, she felt full very quickly at mealtimes and became upset when people assumed from her appearance that she was pregnant. These experiences were consistent over more than 13 years of illness but became steadily more unpleasant as time went on. Her youngest daughter graduated in 2012 and Wendy was too ill to find the joy in the experience that she desperately wanted to. Just over a year later, on October 8th 2014, her first grandchild Ryan was born and this time, well restored to health, her joy was complete.
After her transplant Wendy initially built up physical stamina by taking walks in the country. In the longer term her recovery was helped significantly by the professional expertise of medical staff in the Royal Victoria Hospital and the Belfast City Hospital, and by the friendship of people in local charities Transplant Sport Northern Ireland and the RVH Liver Support Group. She sees the transplant community in Northern Ireland as a family to which she is very proud to belong. She competes regularly in the British Transplant Games, works voluntarily in an Advice centre and sketches wildlife. Recently she swam in the sea for the first time in 25 years and now does so 2 or 3 times a week.
The sense of being blessed by a donor’s gift is a common feeling amongst transplant recipients but Wendy feels doubly blessed as the recipient of two organs from the same donor. She says: When I think of my donor and their family I am overwhelmed by how generous people can be. The kindness of strangers to me has inspired me to be more sensitive to other’s needs, particularly in my voluntary work. The gift of a new life certainly leads to greater empathy with people in difficult circumstances.
Please join the organ donor register, tell your family and friends you have done so and offer the gift of life to someone like Wendy.
It is a gift that will be cherished.
Online: organdonation.nhs.uk By phone 0300 123 23 23