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Don’t worry – be happy

Twenty-five years ago this week, Catherine who was just seven months old was given a life-saving liver transplant. As she celebrates this special milestone, she reflects on what it means.


A positive element of having a transplant at only seven months old is that you don’t worry about it and have no idea of the implications. I’m sure my parents found it scary and emotional. I was a really unwell baby soon after birth with a diagnosis of biliary atresia at 5 ½ weeks old. My dad recalls when I was sent to theatre as a very yellow baby – with little time to live without having a transplant – and soon returning as a pale skinned baby. This was a shock because my parents had never seen my natural skin colour without jaundice!

Because I have grown up with a liver transplant, I have always appreciated how lucky I am. It is a beautiful gift to walk with through life knowing that someone who didn’t know me, choose to do something to save my life. The woman was in her 60s, and it has been said that the liver would last approximately 10 years. I feel very blessed to say that at 25 years post-transplant, I am still living a wonderful and healthy life. I feel incredibly fortunate.

I do feel that having a liver transplant has changed my life in more than just the obvious way. I’ve been given a second chance and it’s made me want to achieve as much as I can and seize every opportunity.

I travel again now, post-Covid shielding. I’ve just returned from Greece to visit my friend from university, and have more trips planned over the next few months. I did my degree in BSc Criminology achieving an award-winning dissertation, many academic roles, and a first-class honours degree. I had a great time at university, the only difference between me and most other students was that I took medication every day – I still do – and I don’t drink at all.

This was a choice as recommended by my liver consultants when I was diagnosed with de-nova autoimmune hepatitis at 14 years old. It has always been respected by everyone I’ve met. My advice to other young people would be just open about not drinking, and if you are asked why – be honest. Any good person would be very understanding – I’ve never had pressure put on me to drink alcohol and an organ transplant is actually a great conversation starter!

After university, I completed my MSc in Policy Research and now I have a busy full-time job working in research and community engagement. I also volunteer for CLDF because I had so much support from them as I was growing up. My journey with CLDF started about 10 years ago, and they are fantastic at providing information, guidance, and support. I have gained many friends at CLDF, and I love fact that they support liver research.

It’s natural for parents, transplant patients and families to worry about the impact of having a transplant. It is not easy and does require monitoring and treatment to maintain our health, much more than an average person. Aside from the medications, biopsies, vaccinations, blood tests and quite a few hospital appointments across the country! – the world of liver life is not all negative. Every person will have struggles in their life – it could be health concerns, worries about finances, friendship problems, education and employment worries, or other things – but making the most of each day gained is the most important part of life.

If I could time travel to tell my parents anything, it would be “I am going to be happy! My health is not all of me and that smile you see on that nosey baby; it will last into adulthood because I will never stop chatting, will be incredibly head strong, and always learning about the world.” If you have a little child also unwell, I hope this brings you hope for the future.

To any young person who worries that their liver condition will hold them back I would say don’t compare yourself to other people. You are you. There is stuff you can do and things that you can understand that other people often cannot. We all have amazing skills, abilities and opportunities in life which will be nothing to do with your liver disease or transplant. None of us knows what the future holds, whatever our health situation so don’t dwell on that. Think about what you can do. Maybe I will need another transplant one day, after all, my liver is a lot older than me. All I can say is that I’m so grateful for this liver, it’s made me very ambitious about life and that’s the only way I approach it.


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