Young mum who was told she needed a double lung transplant to survive urges others to sign up for organ donation

Dr Catherine McCarroll’s life changed drastically last year when she was told that she required a double lung transplant, less than a month after giving birth to her daughter Eve.

During Organ Donation Awareness Week, Catherine recalls her journey to Ulster Star, going from being terminally ill, struggling to walk from her bed to the bathroom, to getting her life back.

Foundation doctor, Catherine McCarroll, who is employed in the South Eastern Trust, was diagnosed with a non-specific inflammatory lung disease when she was in medical school, however she continued to be medically stable for many years.

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Catherine McCarroll with husband Andi and baby Eve. Catherine nearly died soon after her baby girl Eve was born, but was saved by organ donation - she tells her story to raise awareness for organ donation

However, during the latter part of pregnancy Catherine became increasingly short of breath.

Catherine believed the stress of pregnancy was causing her condition to deteriorate and hoped that after her cesarian section at 34 weeks, she would return to her healthy self.But on 31 March last year, the day baby Eve was brought home, Catherine was informed she would need to receive a double lung transplant in order to survive.

By December, Catherine was on oxygen around the clock and was struggling to leave her bed.

As a result, Catherine’s mental health began to suffer, with her husband Andi becoming her full time carer as well as looking after baby Eve.

Catherine with little baby Eve. Catherine and Eve, now 18 months, are now both thriving, and Catherine says she is 'making up for lost time' with her baby before returning to work as a doctor in the South Eastern Trust

The decision was then made for Catherine to be transferred to the Freeman Hospital in Newcastle upon Tyne where she would be placed on ECMO, a life support machine, whilst waiting for her urgent transplant.

Catherine said: “It was a really heart-breaking time for us. Being in the throes of life as new parents while one of us was dying was harder than you could ever imagine.”

On 16 January this year, when baby Eve was just 10 months old, Catherine received a double lung transplant which transformed her life. Since then Catherine has made a full recovery, revealing she now feels better than ever. She is able to fully enjoy motherhood, something she never thought she’d be able to do this time last year.

Catherine said: “Having a baby is a huge life change on its own, to then have a diagnosis of a terminal illness on top of that was just so difficult.

Brave and inspirational: Catherine has shared her story to spread awareness of the importance of organ donation

“It was a time of real joy but also of very deep sorrow. I was heartbroken at the thought of not being here to be Eve’s mum.

"As I became more unwell all I could really do was continue to breastfeed and spend time in bed or on the sofa playing with her.

"My wonderful husband and family rallied around me and did all the hard work like nappy changes, lifting her, dressing her so that I could save my energy to just be with her.

“Now since my transplant I feel like I’m able to be the mum I imagined myself being.

"I love being able to care for Eve in every way again. I love lifting her from her cot, running beside her in the park, reading her stories without being short of breath. Life just feels so easy now and I’m so grateful. None of this would be possible without my donor and their gift.”

Eve is now 18 months old, and both baby Eve and Catherine are thriving:

"I am planning on returning to work soon,” Catherine reveals.

"It’s been difficult emotionally preparing to go back into the hospital setting as a doctor after being so unwell as a patient. I’m taking my time with that. I love my job and want to serve patients well in the future.

"At the minute I want to make up for lost time with Eve. I’m enjoying spending every single day with her at the minute and focusing on my recovery,” she adds.

“Organ donation honestly wasn’t something I ever really thought about, even as a doctor. I think until you hear someone’s story you don’t really grasp how life changing it can be.”

Specialist Nurse in Organ Donation, Ciara McDowell has said, “Make the time during Organ Donation Week to talk to your friends and family about organ donation.

"I can’t stress enough the importance of discussing your wishes. It is a simple conversation that could save a life in the future.”

Organ Donation Week 2022 commenced on 26 September and runs until 2 October, aiming to provide awareness to the public on the important decision of organ donation.

The current organ donation law in Northern Ireland is to opt in to organ and tissue donation. In spring 2023, the law will change to an opt-out system. The new law will be known as Dáithí's Law in recognition of five-year-old Dáithí Mac Gabhann who has been on the waiting list for a heart transplant since 2018.

Following consideration of the issue, in 2020 the health minister announced his intention to pursue a change to an opt-out system for organ donation, as is already seen in Wales, Jersey, England and Scotland.

A public consultation demonstrated widespread support for a move to an opt-out system and this started the Organ and Tissue Donation (Deemed Consent) Bill’s journey through the formal legislative process in the Northern Ireland Assembly in July 2021.

It has since received approval by the Assembly on 8 February 2022 and Royal Assent on 30 March 2022 to become an Act of law.

To find out more about organ donation, including how to ‘opt-in’, visit: www.organdonation.nhs.uk