Lung transplant mother-of-two calls for more donors

PUBLISHED: 15:57 19 October 2012

Bernice Wilson with her father Derek and sons Conor and Joe

Bernice Wilson with her father Derek and sons Conor and Joe

Archant

THREE years ago Bernice Wilson was so weak she could not even talk, but the mother-of-two fought back after a lung transplant and is calling for more people to sign the donor list.

In an emotional interview the WGC resident – who celebrated her 50th birthday last week – revealed the heartbreak and hard work she endured after a series of lung collapses due to rare genetic disorder lymphangioleiomyomatosis.

“To be honest there was a time I didn’t think I was going to make it, they were loath to put me on the transplant list because they did not think I was strong enough to survive,” she said.

“There were so few donors and they thought I was too weak to survive.”

Bernice was an active netball player but in the space of years the condition, which affects one in a million women of child bearing age, had made her so weak she could not even dress herself.

It started innocuously enough with chest pains in 2003 but quickly ravaged both her lungs forcing her to endure five operations by 2008.

Bernice said: “After the fifth one I didn’t recover, I was very weak and breathless and started to deteriorate very quickly.

“I could only walk a couple of yards without stopping and pretty much at the end of the year I was on oxygen 24/7.”

She added: “I was concentrating on getting the next breath, I couldn’t talk and could not dress myself, I couldn’t do anything by myself.”

Bernice’s two sons Joe and Connor “had to grow up fast” and were soon helping out around the house as she was “as disabled as you get, but still breathing”.

It was during this period she was at her lowest but on New Years Eve in 2009 she got the chance for a new life after an operation at Harefield Hospital.

All she knows of the donor is she was a 40-year-old woman from the South East, but one of her lungs gave Bernice a fighting chance, although she was not out of the woods yet.

Her recovery was slow even after she enlisted personal trainer Suzy Fitt to help her get back to strength.

She said: “The effects of both illness and the operation left Bernice exhausted just by the process of breathing. Drinking and eating were at times unbearably difficult. Possibly a bit like nipping up to the top of Everest for a quick cuppa.”

Soon Bernice started making progress and set herself the target of entering the British Transplant Games in August this year and managed to win five medals.

She won three bronze and two silver medals – but the event brought home the bittersweet reality of transplants.

She said: “When you are there in the cathedral [at the opening ceremony for the games] and there are all these people there and you think none of these people would be here without their donors and the donors’ families.”

Bernice added: “It is not about me, I’m thankful both my children have got a mother and a second chance of life.

“But there are a lot of people who could benefit if they give a few minutes thought to signing up [to donate an organ].”

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