Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Agonizing wait for someone else’s lungs

WeekendPost South Africa

A PORT Elizabeth woman who is waiting for a double lung transplant said it was difficult for her to wait for a donor knowing that someone else would have to die before she could continue with her life.

Gloria Bloem, 57, suffers from scleroderma, a chronic auto-immune disease for which there is no cure. The disease can target various parts of one’s body but for Bloem it has caused a collagen build up on her lungs, the extra pressure making it hard for her to breathe.

The disease, which is four times more likely in women than in men, has caused Bloem to require oxygen to be constantly pumped into her system, 24 hours a day. She has one oxygenator at work, another one at home, a third one in her car and another carry-on pack that stores three hours worth of oxygen.

“I had to see a psychiatrist to prepare for the operation. It is difficult coming to terms with someone else having to die so that you can live, ” said Bloem.

The transplant she needed to have was extremely rare and the operation would have to be done in Johannesburg as soon as there was a donor available there.

“It is a complicated process, the person has to be a organ donor and has to be brain dead, and then the family has to give their consent.

“The person will only be alive by means of machines. They will then harvest the lungs and I will jump on a plane immediately. I then have a four hour window to get there for the lungs to be usable. The traffic there is bad so you can imagine the rush.”

She said because the process was so complicated, an entire panel of specialists interviewed her late last year before deciding if they would grant her the transplant. Initially, Bloem had to receive a double lung as well as a heart transplant, because of how her condition had weakened her heart.

“They put me on medication immediately and this helped relieve the pressure the build up on my lungs was doing to my heart. I now only need a lung transplant because of the medication.”

It was during this time that Bloem met Alice Vosloo, another Port Elizabeth woman who received a double lung transplant last year. Vosloo recently won gold at the World Transplant Games in Australia, an international sporting event for recipients of organ donations.

“Alice gives me hope for what my life will be after my operation. She is so vibrant and energetic and lively.

“People do not understand how important it is to be an organ donor. From just one person nine lives can be saved by the donation of various organs. It is especially important for children to be organ donors.”

The mother of one and the grandmother of two, said her condition had had a serious impact on her life, as she could not go anywhere without her air.

Angelique-Michelle Adcock, her daughter, said electricity cuts (a load-shedding program to reduce energy usage) where stressful for the family because her mother was dependent on electricity for her oxygenator to work.

“Other people are upset because they can not cook, or watch television, or charge their phones, but at least they have air. At least they are able to breath without electricity,” Adcock said.

Bloem said she was grateful for the support she received from her daughter and her husband, Joe.

“He has been wonderful by doing things like cleaning and cooking. I would be lost without him.”

Not being a smoker, she said it broke her heart to see people smoke, causing damage to their lungs when she was in desperate need of lungs.

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