‘Don’t take your organs to heaven - we need them here’

Clare Brady and Michelle Crawford. (0312SL19) Photo: Stephen Latimer
Clare Brady and Michelle Crawford. (0312SL19) Photo: Stephen Latimer
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The saying ‘A place close to her heart’ could have been invented for Michelle Crawford and Harefield Hospital, so much so that Michelle and friends have organised a special fundraiser for the Middlesex transplant centre. The ‘Strictly Latin’ dance event next February will coincide with the twentieth anniversary of Michelle’s amazing heart transplant operation on Valentine’s Day 1992.

“I always wanted to find a way to say thank you to Harefield Hospital, not only for giving me a new life but for taking a a chance on me and giving me the transplant at all.

Michelle Crawford receives treatment in Harefield Hospital following her heart transplant. The nurse in the picture is Debbie and the picture was taken on 'Day two' February 15, 1992.

Michelle Crawford receives treatment in Harefield Hospital following her heart transplant. The nurse in the picture is Debbie and the picture was taken on 'Day two' February 15, 1992.

“The idea of the fundraiser is both to raise money for research at Harefield and to raise awareness of organ donation,” said Michelle. “It is scary to think that one in three people on the transplant list die waiting on an organ.

“I want to bring awareness to the organ donor register, that is as important as raising money.

“Derry was so, so very supportive of my family when I was ill. I’ll be forever grateful.

“The people of Derry raised money for us and I still have bags of cards and wellwishes which were sent to me when I was ill.

“I think that having donated money Derry people wont mind spending five minutes to register to leave their organs behind. If your child needed an organ donor wouldn’t you be praying for one and begging people to register. It is time well spent.”

For obvious reasons it is a topic Michelle feels very strongly about.

“People don’t need to be dying because you didn’t get around to take five minutes to fill out a form.

“That is the real reason people die waiting on a transplant, a lack of organs. I am pleading with people, don’t take your organs to heaven as heaven knows we need them here.

“They are a gift you can leave behind you for decades after your own death.”

Michelle’s own health problems started early. “I was born sick,” she laughs.

“I was born a blue baby. There was no real information at the time and I was finally diagnosed with Hypertrophic obstructive cardiomyopathy, a thickening of the heart muscles aged nine.”

Michelle was given six weeks to live. “My only chance was a heart transplant. Altnagelvin sent me straight to Harefield Hospital for a consult but my parents were left in no doubt as to how slim my chances were.

“I effectively died and was reborn while at Harefield.

“It really is a place that is close to my heart, they have given me twenty years of care and service and I’ll forever be grateful to the staff there.

“By the time of the operation on Valentine’s Day I was at deaths door, my organs were shutting down I was in a wheelchair, I couldn’t eat and was suffering heart failure.”

Michelle recalls weighing only three stone, though at the time she didn’t realise just how serious her condition was.

“I knew I was gravely ill but at that age you don’t really understand why you’re having dreams about dying.

“I was later told that there was a good chance I wasn’t going to survive the anaesthetic I was that weak.”

Michelle says the hospital “really took a chance on me.”

In fact the scheduled four hour operation took seven.

“I died a few times on the operating table but they kept bringing me back,” she says matter of factly.

When the operation was over, and to the alarm of medical staff and her family, Michelle could not regain consciousness.

“The doctors told my parents that the only thing left to try was to increase my drug levels but that there was also a high chance this could kill me instantly.

“It was basically ‘say goodbye now as she fades away or we try this last option.’ My mother, Lorraine, said; ‘She has come this far give her one more chance to fight.’

“Other hospitals would not have taken the chance to give me the transplant or the increased medicine but Harefield fought for me and I want to say thank you by fighting for them.”

The average lifespan of a patient with a heart transplant, said Michelle is; “Between 10 and 15 years. I’ve had twenty already and I’m still going strong.

“The first heart transplant patient lasted mere hours and the longest recorded is 30 years, so I’ve a lot to be grateful for.

“In more ways than one this really is a mega anniversary.

“Thanks to the operation at and aftercare provided by Harefield I have a full life ahead of me. yes, I have bad days and I’ll be on medication the rest of my life.

“ I have a suppressed immune system and can he hospitalised with a common cold but ‘the rest of my life’ is a lot longer and much more promising thanks to Harefield and my organ donor. The term a ‘new’ lease of life doesn’t cover it.”

Just to illustrate the difference organ donation makes, Michelle explains how her transplant was actually one of three simultaeneous transplant operations that Valentine’s Day.

“One girl who had cystic fibrosis received the heart and lungs of the first donor as that transplant has a higher success rate than transplanting the lungs alone. Her healthy heart was then given to me.”

Two peoples lives were utterly transformed by the actions of the original donor.

Within one week of her operation Michelle was on her feet learning to walk again.

Within three weeks, on Easter Sunday no less, she was allowed to leave the hospital ward and move into a small house nearby.

“Harefield and my organ donor have given me a life. Had it not been for them I would have died. Although I have to be careful and take care of myself I try to live as full a life as possible.

“I love dancing and having joined the Sabroso Salsa School of Dance, I dance when I can. My teacher Clare Brady is helping organise the fundraiser, I really wanted to do something that was worthwhile, fun and healthy all for Harefield.

“Clare has been teaching for 14 years and was delighted to help me out.

“I think it is important to thank Derry for their support over the years and so I hope everyone will have a great night, full of surpirses and all for a good cause.

“Our dancers have very little experience and are already rehearsing. I’m sure they enjoy what is going to be an amazing experience.

“The hope is we can raise £10,000. I want to hand Harefield Hospital a big fat cheque, hopefully they can use that money to give some other nine year old patient twenty plus years of life at a time when, as in my case it just seemed so unlikely.

“I can tell you I’m hoping and praying for another twenty years.”

The Strictly Latin event will be held in The City Hotel on Sunday February 26, if you would like to find out more or to make a donation contact Clare on 07729358961 or www.sabroso.co.uk

To register on the organ donor list log onto http://www.organdonation.nhs.uk/ or call the NHS Donor Line on 0300 123 23 23.

“It only takes five minutes and you could save several lives,” said Michelle, “that has to be time well spent.”