Appreciating the gift of life

  • Niall Hunter, Editor

A 73 year-old great-grandmother from Sligo has entered the Guinness Book of World Records as the longest surviving single lung transplant recipient in the world.

Vera Dwyer, who developed fibrosis alveolitis (progressive thickening of the walls of the air sacs of the lungs), had a lung transplant operation in the Royal Brompton and Harefield Hospital in London back in 1988 after her lungs began to fail.

At the time, she had only days to live.

"Previously, I had never been ill in my life - I was very fit and had played on the Co Roscommon camogie team - but I had started to get very short of breath and my lungs basically began to pack in," Vera told

"Eventually, I went to London to see Prof Magdi Yacoub, who told me my only hope was a lung transplant."

Vera was waiting three years for her transplant and spent three months in hospital recuperating after her operation. She had to learn how to walk, talk and eat again without the aid of machines.

She made a remarkable recovery, and has gone on to lead a very full, healthy and active life.

Vera was one of the first to undergo ground-breaking single lung transplant surgery in Harefield Hospital and was one of three persons to receive an organ from a 24-year-old female donor, whose other lung and heart went to the two other recipients, who have since passed away.

"I have been very lucky and I appreciate that, and I would feel my experience will give hope to those waiting for a transplant and who undergo transplants."

Vera says she is careful to look after herself in terms of what she eats and making sure to take enough exercise, and managing her medication. She feels this has played a part in ensuring she has led a healthy life overall since the transplant.

"I also try to maintain a positive attitude - I set goals for myself and try to keep to them. I would stress to people waiting for transplants to try to keep as positive an attitude as they can - there is hope out there."

She had a kidney transplant in 2009 but has made a full recovery too from that operation.

Vera celebrated her entry into the Guinness Book of World Records at the recent launch of a new web resource for people who have undergone an organ transplant.

Vera and her husband, who died earlier this year, held a joint celebration fundraiser two years ago marking their 50th wedding anniversary and the 25th anniversary of her transplant, with the proceeds going to the Heart and Lung Transplant Association, the renal unit in Sligo Hospital and Sligo Hospice.

"I owed it to my donor to do everything in my power to look after myself after transplantation. I have lived to raise my four children and see them grow up to have their own children, and I now even have a great-grandchild, Leah, who is now three. It is a wonderful gift for which I am forever grateful."

The online resource for people who have undergone an organ transplant has been launched to provide long-term health advice and support. The initiative will be a focal point for the entire transplant community, including patients, carers and healthcare professionals, to promote long-term health after receiving an organ transplant.

According to Prof Jim Egan, respiratory physician at Dublin's Mater Hospital and Director of the National Organ Donation and Transplant Office, many organ recipients experience side-effects or find managing their medications challenging.

"After becoming accustomed to managing these, it is important to maintain a good diet and regular physical activity to keep cholesterol and blood pressure down."

He said the web resource Transplant360 web resource provides much-needed support to transplant patients in what is a complex medical environment.

"In lung transplantation in particular, infection can be quite common and the side effects of medication can be onerous. The lungs are a bit more vulnerable than other organs because they are more open to the environment," he told

Prof Egan said 2013 was the most productive year yet in Ireland for lung transplants, with 32 transplant operations carried out, and the transplant unit at Dublin's Mater Hospital is on schedule for a similar number this year.

"There are 45 people on the waiting list at the moment and the average wait for a lung transplant is 18 months. Unfortunately, people do sometimes die on the waiting lists, but with improved rates of organ donation and of transplantation, as has been occurring recently, such deaths are less likely to take place."

The majority of lung transplants in Ireland are carried our on patients with cystic fibrosis or pulmonary fibrosis.

"Currently in Ireland, out of 3,900 patients with failed kidneys 53%, or 2,100, are transplanted and 47%, or 1,800, are on dialysis. Including all other organ transplants, there are just under 3,000 people in Ireland enjoying extended life because of organ donation resulting in transplantation," said Mark Murphy, Chief Executive of the Irish Kidney Association.

"Organ recipients face a number of challenges after a successful transplant and need to develop a particular approach to their well-being to keep themselves, and their new organ, as healthy as possible and provides information and tips on how to deal with these issues," he added.

The period after a transplant can be very stressful and emotionally draining for the recipient and their support network. hosts videos of people sharing their stories and thoughts on life after a transplant and information about local support groups. Caregivers can learn how to care for themselves and their loved one, from changing bandages and adhering to medications to attending check-ups and providing emotional support.








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