‘Face to face with the family of the organ donor who saved my life’
A WOMAN who had never eaten food or had a drink until she was 16 has met the family of the teenage girl whose organs helped to save her life.
To this day Molly Smith, 20, does not feel hunger or thirst. She has to make a conscious effort to eat and for her, food has no pleasure.
That is because since she was a baby, Molly relied on getting her daily nutrient intake pumped through a tube directly into her blood supply.
But when doctors discovered artificial feeding had led to liver failure, Molly, who lives in Buckden, was told without a transplant, she could die.
Thanks to the sacrifice of one family, the former St Neots Community College student was able to get the liver, small bowel and pancreas transplant she so urgently needed, and four years ago she took her first bite of solid food.
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Now Molly is backing a campaign, spearheaded by the NHS Organ Donor Register, to encourage more people to sign up to be organ donors.
In the UK there is a chronic shortage of donors, with only 29 per cent of the population registered.
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Molly said: “I knew it [the transplant] was my only chance. It did sound a really scary thing, but there was nothing they could do to stop the liver failure.
“People do not give organ donation a lot of thought. People do not want to think about dying when they are well. But if you are waiting for a transplant, you think about dying every day.”
Molly’s small intestines failed when she was six months old, and a part of her bowel was removed.
Through a central line inserted into her heart, she was able to get the nutrients she needed, but the process meant she spent 12 hours a day in her room hooked up to a machine.
She never ate lunch or dinner, and would not even have a glass of water. Just taking one small bite of food made her vomit.
People who did not know her thought she suffered with an eating disorder, and social occasions - meals out or friends’ birthday parties - were often awkward.
“People often say ‘You must have really missed food,’ but I did not know any different. I was always an avid reader so I would just sit with my family and read a book at the dinner table.”
Aged 15, Molly began suffering severe nose bleeds that ended with her having to undergo a blood transfusion in hospital.
She was diagnosed with liver failure and her health very quickly deteriorated.
She said: “My liver was too damaged to repair itself, and I was told that I needed a liver transplant. My condition would have damaged the new liver, so I had to have a small bowel and pancreas transplant as well.”
An anxious ten-week wait followed, before she received the phone-call that changed her life.
“The night we got the call, I had gone to bed early. My parents came into my room and woke me up. We had to rush to the hospital quickly because organs don’t survive for very long outside the body.
“We got the phone-call at 10pm, we were in the hospital by 12 and I went into theatre at 8.30am.”
The 12-hour operation at Birmingham Children’s Hospital in November 2006 was a success, and just two weeks later, she took her first bite of food - a piece of banana.
“There were staff from all around the hospital who came to see, and mum and dad took a photo and put it on the door.
“It is so hard to put into words what it felt like. I had taken tablets before so I had that swallowing mechanism.
“I knew there would be different flavours, but it took a long time for me to get used to the different textures of food as well.”
Since receiving the donation, Molly has sat her GCSEs, completed part of an International Baccaleurate, and spent 10 days in Japan as part of her studies.
She has been in e-mail contact with one of the sisters of her 19-year-old donor, and earlier this year, she met a second sister – the first time she had had face-to-face contact with a member of her donor family.
“It was very emotional, but it was really nice to meet her. I feel really privileged to be in touch with my donor family, and I think it helps her family who are having such a hard time.
“Receiving the transplant saved my life and gave me the opportunity to think about my future. I don’t know what I want to do at the moment, but now I have so many options and my whole life ahead of me.”
INFORMATION: To sign up to the NHS Organ Donor Register go to www.organdonation.nhs.uk or call the donor helpline on 0300 123 23 23.