Gina Caton, a double lung transplant survivor, has made an appeal for more people to join the organ donor scheme. She is pictured with her dog Alfie.
A woman who was given a second chance at life after undergoing a lung transplant has made an emotional plea for people to join the organ donor register so others stand a chance of having their lives saved.
Less than a year ago Gina Caton, 30, a receptionist at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital (NNUH) who suffered from emphysema, underwent an urgent lung transplant operation without which she would have died.
Miss Caton, who has never smoked, does not know who the donor was but says she cannot thank them or their family enough for allowing her to have her life back.
Today she has called on others to sign up to become a donor and help give people in desperate need of a transplant a chance they otherwise might not get.
“I have written the family a letter just to say how grateful I am,” she said. “I wouldn't be here if that person didn't have a donor card and if that family didn't agree - they've given me a second chance. My message to anyone would be to get on the donor scheme because it does save people's lives. It's just so important.”
Miss Caton, who lives at Easton College with her partner of nine years James Wright, suffered years of problems with her health which grew progressively worse by her teenage years.
At least four times she was treated at hospital for coughing up blood from her lungs which resulted from vessels bursting inside her chest.
It was only in 1999 that Miss Caton's illness, which was previously thought to be asthma, was finally diagnosed. The former Costessey High School pupil who was adopted at a young age after spending time in care was told the condition was hereditary.
“They said the only cure would be the transplant but never said when - they said it could be years,” she said.
About three years ago Miss Caton, who has a two-year-old niece Ellie and a four-year-old nephew Ryan, was told she really needed to prepare herself for the transplant but was “so frightened” that she kept putting it off.
“It wasn't until September last year that I got seriously ill and my doctor told me that I really needed to think about it,” she said.
“I was told I wouldn't survive over the winter. The thought of not seeing my family again really scared me.”
Miss Caton, who lost her adoptive mother in 2000, had to undergo a series of tests to assess her for a transplant. That was in September last year and by November a suitable donor had been found.
On November 7 last year she underwent a lung transplant at Papworth Hospital. “The operation didn't really worry me,” she said. “It was my family I was worried about more - they were there waiting, walking the corridors.”
The operation, which took more than 10 hours, was a success and after just three weeks in hospital she was allowed back home where her family, including partner James and adoptive father Peter, cared for her.
Although Miss Caton needs to take medication daily to ensure her body does not reject the new organs, as well as monitoring her weight and temperature every day, she is back to something resembling a normal life and could not be happier.
Before the operation she could not walk a few yards without “turning blue” but now Miss Caton has discovered a new passion for walking and loves taking her dog Alfie for a run along Whitlingham Lane in Trowse.
Earlier this year she and her partner went to the Lake District where she managed to climb up and down Red Screes, a 776metre mountain between the villages of Patterdale and Ambleside.
“I've found a new passion now - I love walking and climbing up mountain's,” she said. “I just want to say thanks to my family and the NHS - they have just been absolutely wonderful and helped me so much.”
To sign up to the organ donor register call the donor line on 0300 123 23 23 or log on to the website http://www.organdonation.nhs.uk. Has your life been saved thanks to an organ donation? Call reporter Peter Walsh on 01603 772436 or email firstname.lastname@example.org