“I can’t say that growing up with cystic fibrosis didn’t make me different to any of the other kids because it did".
At school camps I’d have to go up and take medication and had to be wary about swimming or cross country because contact with soil and some types of water can harbour bacteria that can be dangerous for someone with CF. But I refused to let my family molly coddle me but if someone finds out you have an illness that’s what they tend to do. There were times when I hid my illness.
But I was quite lucky in that I wasn’t too sick during my teenage years. I still managed to have a gap year when I was 18 and go travelling which has always been a big focus for me. There were a lot of people who tried to talk me out of it because I was going away for five months and doing a Contiki which meant a lot of young people living a party lifestyle. I tried to keep up treatment as much as I could, and I did manage, but it wasn’t easy.
When I returned to NZ I got a certificate in nannying, followed by an Early Child Education degree and an Infant and Toddler Mental Health diploma, and started a career in early childhood education.
When I was 25 I embarked on another big trip around Europe and Egypt but this time my health was starting to fail and I got exhausted very quickly.
By the time I was 28 my health was really declining. I would have to have rest breaks while brushing my teeth because I’d lose my breath. But I still didn’t think I needed a lung transplant – I was in denial that I was that bad. Like every CFer we think that we can do it on our own and if we do our nebulisers and we do our physiotherapy we won’t need a hospital admission – that’s how stubborn we are. Then in just five months I declined very quickly. My lung function dropped by 20 percent, I was on oxygen 24/7, I weighed just 42kgs and my hair was falling out.
I remember by the time it was decided a lung transplant was my best chance for a future, it was almost a relief. I was scared that I wouldn’t be accepted on to the lung transplant waiting list because there are a lot of tests you need to pass before you are. The medical team need to be certain that donor lungs go to someone who will care for them.
I was only on the list for six weeks before my transplant which was a surprise because I had a rare blood type. There was a lot of support from Cystic Fibrosis New Zealand from the time of transplant assessment right through to post-transplant.
Looking back since my transplant in 2015, I can’t believe how sick I actually was. I had managed to work until a few months beforehand but I would have to spend my lunch break hooked up to an oxygen machine.
After my transplant I vowed to continue my love of travelling, and this time I was able to do it easily and all with the awareness that the gift from my lung donor made the journey possible.
I celebrated my 30th birthday with 28 friends and relatives in Las Vegas, went to the Grand Canyon, Niagara Falls, New York and went ziplining at Whistler. I want to go back to Europe and go to all the places I struggled to do before.
Since then I’ve bought my own home – an old cottage in Christchurch which I absolutely love and it means I’ve finally achieved a goal that normal people have.
My life hasn’t taken the usual path but I do live it to the full. I like to think anything is possible - you can achieve a goal if you set your mind on it. And don’t let anything get in the way.”