By Kate Foster
JUST over a year ago, her desperate plight sparked Scotland on Sunday’s organ donation campaign.
Gillian MacCormick’s life hung in the balance as she hoped for a life-saving liver transplant amid a nationwide shortage of organs.
But last week, after a wait of two years and five months, the dramatic phone call Gillian and her family had been waiting for finally came: a donor had been found.
And this weekend the mother-of-two is recovering at the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary after undergoing her long-awaited transplant.
Last night, Gillian’s sister Carol Forsyth said the 40-year-old from Livingston, West Lothian, remained sedated following the operation. The procedure, which took place on Tuesday morning, went well, but over the following days she was taken back into the operating theatre for further minor surgery following bleeds from an artery.
Carol said: “When she got the call that a liver had been found Gillian was shocked, frightened and happy all at the same time. But this was the best thing for her and we are glad for her. There was no alternative for her and she understood that. When we got to the hospital she looked over the consent form, signed it and away she went.
“We are absolutely ecstatic that this has happened, but we are thinking about the donor’s family as well, who are not celebrating at this time. However, this was their wish and the fact that they have saved my sister’s life means that the donor’s death was not in vain.
“She knew that she had to get this operation or she would not be here is a few years. It is going to be a long road to recovery for our Gillian, but she will get there.”
She added: “Gillian has backed Scotland on Sunday’s campaign for presumed consent for organ donation and she will continue to do so because she feels so strongly about it.
“This operation shows there is hope for others on the waiting list. She had waited a long time.”
The last 12 months have been difficult for Gillian, a training adviser who once used to enjoy energetic day-long shopping expeditions to Edinburgh’s Princes Street, as well as for her husband John and their teenage son Jordan, 18, and daughter Harley, 15.
She suffered from the auto-immune disease primary biliary cirrhosis for a decade, which causes inflammation and scarring of the liver and had slowly caused her health to deteriorate with bouts of itching, pain, infections and exhaustion.
A liver transplant was her only hope for survival, but like thousands of others on the organ transplant waiting list, she knew she might die before a donor could be found.
As Gillian’s health got worse, she was unable to enjoy life as she once had, and she was generally unable to travel more than an hour’s drive from her home in case the call for a transplant came. She spent much of last year in hospital because of her illness.
In previous interviews with this newspaper she has revealed just how limited her life had become, spending all weekend resting in order to build up the energy for her week at work, staying at home while the rest of her family went out and missing out on her children’s football and gymnastics activities, and being so down that she rarely smiled. Speaking last year she admitted: “It would be easy to curl up in a ball and give up. The prospect of a transplant is frightening. But my kids need their mum. “
Primary biliary cirrhosis affects approximately one in 1,000 women (men are far less likely to get the disease). Symptoms include chronic fatigue, intense itching of the skin, frequent indigestion and sore joints.
It is thought to be caused by a malfunction in the body’s immune system and is not linked to alcohol abuse.
In May, Gillian had a false alarm when a potential liver was found and she was called into hospital in the early hours of the morning.
However, after a five-hour wait, she was told that tests on the donor liver revealed it was not suitable for transplant and she was sent home.
The disappointment of this ordeal prompted her to take a holiday in Australia for three weeks for a relative’s 90th birthday celebrations.
It meant she had to temporarily come off the waiting list, but Gillian felt the gamble was worth it because she needed the break.
In the 13 months since Gillian went public with her case in a bid to raise awareness of organ donation, there have been a series of political developments signalling hope for a change in the law, which professional bodies, such as the British Medical Association, believe would cut the waiting list enormously.
The chief medical officers of Scotland and England, and Scotland’s Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon, have all backed presumed consent, which would mean every member of the public is automatically assumed to be eligible as an organ donor unless they specifically object.
Research shows that more than 90 per cent of the public are in favour of organ donation but, with only 1.5 million on the register, less than one-third have signed up.
An Organ Donation Taskforce is examining whether presumed consent, also known as an opt-out system, could be made law in the UK.
According to UK Transplant, so far this year 884 patients have received transplants, while 7,884 people are currently waiting for the life-saving procedure.
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