Monday, August 02, 2010

Woman becomes first to have all her major organs transplanted...then qualifies as a doctor

Daily Mail Online

A woman who made medical history after having ALL her major organs transplanted has qualified as a doctor.

It took Allison John 13 years to complete her studies during which time she received a new heart, lungs and kidneys. The 32-year-old had previously had a liver transplant when still a teenager.

Her experiences with the many doctors, nurses and surgeons that treated her made Allison determined to help other people fighting for their lives.

Allison John, 32, who had four organ transplants, is keen to use her experiences as a patient in her role as a newly qualified doctor

She has been close to death three times - and was once told she had just three days to live.

Doctors told her she was the first person in Europe to have all her major organs transplanted, if not the world.

Allison was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis when she was just six weeks old and has overcome overwhelming odds to get to where she is today. She is now planning to marry her fiance Nathan next year.

The Cardiff University graduate said: 'I never thought this day would finally come. It's such a huge milestone for me.

'My life has been a bit of a rollercoaster and it's taken me a long time to get here but I got here in the end.

'I'm really excited about starting work as a junior doctor at Nevill Hall Hospital in Abergavenny and I think that my experiences at the hands of doctors and surgeons will help me to be successful.

'I strongly believe that if you can't empathise with a patient, you're not a good doctor. But after all that I've been through, I think I can use the experiences I've had with both good and bad doctors to help others.'

At the age of 14 Allison's liver began to fail and she was told she would need a transplant. Doctors compared her failing organ to the liver of an alcoholic with cirrhosis.

An agonizing 16 month wait for a match followed and finally in September 1995 the teenager received a new liver - just after doctors told her she had just three days to live.

Allison John on a ventilator aged 17 in 1995 after her liver transplant, with her mother Helen

After bravely battling back to health Allison began a degree in neuroscience at Cardiff University in October 1996.

But just a few months later she received the devastating news that she was suffering from lung failure in March 1997.

She could barely leave her bedroom and was in a wheelchair and on oxygen 24 hours a day.

Her weight plummeted to just 5 stone 7 (103 lbs) and she had to feed herself through a tube in her nose to gain the stone she needed to to undergo another transplant.

A match was found in August 1997 and Allison was given four hours to get from Cardiff to Papworth hospital,Cambridge. She made it with just minutes to spare after the ambulance got lost.

Doctors replaced both her lungs and her heart during a six hour operation.

Her healthy heart was removed with the lungs as part of a 'package' and was given to David Hamilton, a man who had suffered several heart attacks over twenty years.

Allison enjoyed a period of good health for several years and completed her degree in neuroscience in June 2001.

Inspired by her experience with the NHS and the doctors who had helped her she started a degree in medicine at Cardiff in October 2001.

She immersed herself in her studies but was struck another devastating blow in April 2005.

In a cruel twist of fate the medication she was taking to stop her body rejecting her new organs caused kidney damage.

She was diagnosed with renal failure and told that she would need yet another transplant.

Her father David, 61, was found to be a match and the pair underwent a gruelling operation.

Allison was conscious throughout the surgery, as the risk of putting her fragile body under general anaesthetic was too great.

At her own request she received an epidural and was awake for the entire experience, which she describes as the most surreal of her life.

This last her operation in December 2006 made her the first person in the UK to have all of her major organs transplanted.

Allison said: 'When I suffered renal failure, doctors originally ruled out the possibility of me having another transplant because of the dangers of general anaesthetic for me.

'But having studied medicine I knew that some patients were having pain-relieving epidurals rather than the riskier anaesthetic.

'It was a huge gamble, but with my life ebbing away I didn't have anything to lose.

'Lots of people have said that I've had such bad luck but I don't look at it like that. The number of organs for donation is very low and I count myself as one of the lucky ones.

'At the moment I feel I'm in the best shape physically that I've ever been and I'm so excited about the future.'

Now Allison is determined to enjoy every day.

She said: 'There's no point in worrying about the future when the present is so good. The things I've lived through have taught me to treasure the little things in life and to appreciate the here and now.'

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