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The Treadmill of Life

By Natasha Rogers

I was born with CHD in 1974. In my early years I was encouraged to do as many normal things as possible despite the fact that I would become very blue and breathless. At school, PE was possible as long as l was allowed to stop if l needed to.

l attended swimming lessons, gymnastics, and joined The Salvation Army becoming a junior soldier, singing company member and corps cadet.

For probably quite sensible reasons, l wasn't allowed to learn an instrument. My younger sister Hayley did many the same things as me, only normally better because she had far more energy.

My condition was regularly monitored at both the local hospital and The Royal Brompton in London. When l was 16 l developed a cerebral abscess due to my poor circulation.

I remember drifting in and out of consciousness in the ambulance to Oxford for emergency surgery on the same day of the Army garden party my parents had been organising. l'd been left at home with my grandmother because l was ill, although no one realised what was wrong at the time. At hospital, l had a whole Intensive Care Unit to myself; l must have made quite an impact.

I joined the Songster Brigade when l was 19 though often it was difficult to breathe while singing. But my condition continued to deteriorate and l was accepted onto the waiting list for a heart and lung transplant in October 1994. I managed to work for six years on a government-training scheme, run by a fellow Salvationist, gradually reducing my hours until l had to stop working altogether in March 2000.

During May 2001 l began to feel really unwell, again after my local corps had held a large open air in a local park, which l had managed to attend in my wheelchair. l was in hospital for four weeks, during which time l was taken by ambulance to Harefield Hospital for urgent reassessment. It was decided that l needed a transplant as soon as compatible organs became available. I was sent home, as there was less chance of acquiring an infection. A carer helped to look after me which l found quite frustrating, though l knew that l was very ill and had been told not to do anything.

In June on our way home from visiting my sister who had been discharged from hospital following her first ever asthma attack, the mobile rang and the Transplant Coordinator at Harefield said they may have found some suitable organs for me if l would like to 'pop down'. I was speechless, after waiting for so long we initially thought it was someone's idea of a joke. Numerous feelings took over, excitement, fear, and it was a definite challenge to my faith. At Harefield, a doctor explained the risks of the surgery, and asked if l would consent to heart valves being used for another patient. What a bonus that l could also become a donor. After long delays we became convinced the organs were not suitable and we would be sent home.

Statistics show that one in three transplants do not go ahead on the first occasion.

Suddenly after all the waiting there was a surge of activity, gowns to wear, drugs to take and my family literally ran with me to the operating theatre, where we were allowed two minutes together. What do you say in that time? Eventually l was taken into theatre.

For the first few days on the Intensive Care Unit l was deliberately kept asleep because the doctors knew that I would have to return to theatre in two or three days. Then followed ITU for five weeks with things not going to plan, me unable to breath without the ventilator, then needing physio to learn to walk again. You don't appreciate the frustration of not being able to talk due to the ventilator, and being so desperate for a drink until you've experienced it for yourself. At least l managed to see the final matches of Wimbledon, though reception was poor on ITU due to the excess of electrical equipment.

l then went to the ward for eight weeks with more intensive physio, re-learning stairs and breathing correctly. It was hard work for all of us but worth it now that I'm able to do things that I've never been able to do before, and it is only six months since my transplant. I've bought an exercise bike and treadmill and I'm determined to get as fit as possible and enjoy life to the full, whilst hopefully being a good advertisement for this type of miraculous surgery.

l would like to thank everyone for their continued support and prayers. We as a family frequently think of the donor family, and pray that they will be able to find some comfort in knowing that their decision, in their own personal grief, has helped me to find a life that l could only have dreamed of before.

Printed in GUCH News, Summer 2002

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