Let me introduce myself – my name is Chris Dovey and I work as Communications Content Assistant at Reading Football Club, where I write articles for the website and matchday programme for the club I grew up supporting.
This week is #OrganDonationWeek, and it’s a topic that holds a special place in my heart because two years ago I was in need of an urgent double lung transplant due to Cystic Fibrosis.
I understand that Organ Donation is a sensitive topic that not everyone is comfortable talking about, but I hope that by sharing my story, it will help raise awareness about Cystic Fibrosis and the transplant process, that so many people around the UK depend on. This is my story…
At 4 days old I was diagnosed with Cystic Fibrosis. What is Cystic Fibrosis? It’s a genetic disorder that affects mostly the lungs, but also the pancreas, liver, kidneys, and intestine. In short, it means difficulty breathing and coughing up mucus as a result of frequent lung infections. Currently there is no known cure, so if someone’s condition deteriorates past a certain point, like mine did, that’s when transplant comes into play.
As things go, I had a fairly healthy childhood and adolescence, and surrounded myself with sports. Football was without a doubt my favourite. Growing up supporting Reading, I remember going to see my first match at Madejski Stadium against Grimsby Town in 2003, at the age of six.
I also played on the weekends for my local team, Woodley Wanderers. I’d try to be outside playing whenever I could – mostly because I simply enjoyed it, but also because having CF, its one way of trying to keep as healthy as possible – along with following a strict regime of tablets, nebulisers and physio therapy in order to stay on top of things.
Now it’s fairly common for people with CF to need hospital treatment now and then to help overcome various colds and infections, but it wasn’t until about 5 years ago when things started to go downhill for me, and I found myself needing more and more frequent IV antibiotics and hospital stays.
It seemed a yearly event that come summer, I would spend months at a time confined to a hospital bed. I began to need oxygen 24/7, a machine called an NIV (Non-invasive ventilation) to help me breath, and the aid of a wheelchair to get me out and about.
Trials and tests
My CF doctors had brought up the subject of lung transplant when I first began to need these lengthy admissions, but it was always something that I sort of put to the side, although in the back of my mind I think I knew that it was something I was going to have to decide on sooner rather than later.
Just before my 21st birthday in May 2017, after various trials and tests to see whether I would be a fit candidate for transplant, I was placed on the active waiting list for a new pair of lungs.
Because of the shortage of organs available for transplant in the UK, the average waiting time when I was on the list for lungs, I was told was about 18 months, according to someone my size. Of course it’s much more complicated than just those two factors; blood type, anti-bodies, tissue type – there’s a thousand and one things that have to go in your favour for you to find a suitable match, and even then, it’s not guaranteed that the operation will go to plan.
The waiting game
I waited on the list for about six months, with almost the entirety of that time spent in hospital receiving various cocktails of antibiotics whilst on a constant supply of oxygen and the NIV machine to help me breathe. During that time I received multiple false alarms, which I was told beforehand was fairly common, although it still doesn’t prepare you for the emotional roller-coaster you feel at the time.
In November 2017, in the early hours of the morning , I received a call which turned out to be another false alarm. Little did I know that later that evening I would get my 7th call which would change my life forever.
After travelling to Harefield (one of only five specialised lung transplant hospitals in the country) by ambulance I was told the next morning that I’d been given the green light. The donor lungs were deemed healthy enough and I was wheeled down to the operating theatre to undergo an eight-hour operation, swapping my old CF riddled lungs for a pair that would hopefully last me a lot longer.
Road to recovery
My recovery was quicker than expected considering my condition beforehand. Having spent eight odd months on a breathing machine 24 hours a day, I was told it wouldn’t be a surprise to wake up from the operation with a tracheotomy and that I’d likely be in the hospital for at least 4-6 weeks. As it turns out, things couldn’t have gone much smoother, and I was discharged from hospital 16 days after my transplant. I got to spend Christmas with my family, free from the oxygen wires and IV antibiotics that had previously run my life.
Organ donation is such a selfless gift that anyone can give, and through it comes the power to change the life of so many people, so I would encourage everyone to seriously think about becoming a donor.
It takes two minutes to sign the register, and you’re more likely to be in a situation where you need a transplant than to be in the position to donate. I don’t think many people realise the difference it can make to people like myself.
I still have Cystic Fibrosis, but my lungs are clear of infection and my body can start to recover. Seven months on, I played football for the first time in over four years, something I thought I’d given up on. I’ve also returned to work as part of the Communications Team at Reading FC, the place where I completed my apprenticeship pre-transplant. I also got to play in the annual staff match at Madejski Stadium, teammates with José Gomes, his backroom staff and my colleagues at the club, something I could never have envision myself doing if it weren’t for transplant.
From hospital bed, to playing alongside the manager at Madejski Stadium
Possibilities are now limitless, and I’m not held back my body anymore. Lengthy physio treatments and coughing fits are a thing of the past and I can breathe without constantly thinking or worrying about it anymore. It’s the small day to day things, like walking up the stairs unaided, that remind me of how lucky I am.
I owe my life to my donor and their family who were willing to give the ultimate gift. For that, words can’t begin to describe how grateful I am. Transplantation isn’t a cure, but with help from a regime of anti-rejection tablets, it can give me and others alike a better quality of life that wouldn’t have been possible if it weren’t for such a gift.
The support which I have received from the club during the whole transplant process has been overwhelming, from their understanding of my situation and their willingness to help me out anyway possible both before and after the operation, to them giving me the platform to tell my story and help raise awareness of organ donation. They really have supported me during an extremely difficult time.
Unfortunately, not everyone is as lucky as I am, and there are thousands of people in the UK that are still waiting for that call, for a second chance at life. That’s why this #OrganDonationWeek I encourage everyone reading this to think about becoming a donor, and to talk about it with your family. The law around organ donation is changing from spring 2020, but please don’t wait until then to register your wishes, whatever they may be. Words save lives.