Lara – A Barefooter story of life, lungs and laughter!

As Donate Life week is at the end of this month we’d like to share a Barefooter story of Lara who is an organ recipient to raise awareness of the awesomeness of Organ Donation. We usually write a little intro but I think I’ll leave it to Lara to introduce herself. Questions by Sal

Lara! You superstar – could you tell us a little bit about yourself and your health history?

How much time do you have? So, I was the ripe old age of 17, I played Netball and competed in Little Athletics and was pretty fit and active.  I had just graduated high school and the Christmas of 2008 saw me get hit with a bad case of Glandular Fever.  If you’ve ever had Glandular Fever, you know that there isn’t anything a doctor can do for you other than prescribe a good dose of a few days rest.  To cut a long story short, one thing led to another and the Glandular Fever had turned to pneumonia, and then into septicaemia and before we knew it, I was put into a medically induced coma.  I was diagnosed with Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS) and after both lungs collapsed, a lung transplant was my only chance of survival.  After 4 months of being in a coma and loads of complications, I was finally gifted with two new lungs thanks to the beautiful gift of life that is Organ Donation.   

My life had changed right before my eyes, and there was no chance I was going to let it slip past me again.  I woke up and Barack Obama was president and Michael Jackson had passed, and that was only the beginning.  I had a long road of recovery ahead, but I had a second chance at life.  It took me about 6 months, some gruelling physio and OT and I was gratefully back on track. I have just turned 29, and although the road hasn’t been smooth, I have been incredibly lucky.  Sure, I have been in and out of hospital a bunch of times, and have been poked and prodded on numerous occasions, but I have achieved more than I could ever have possibly imagined, and am here to thankfully tell the tale.  My new lungs have allowed me to complete a law degree, practise law, renovate a house, become an aunt 7 times over,  travelled o/s, build a house, change careers, start a business and get married.  I also did this crazy thing and walk 30km from Sandgate to Southbank, and not even I expected my lungs to handle that.  None of it would have been possible without organ donation.   I often tell people I was just really unlucky, but lucky at the same time to still be here.  I am happily married, have the cutest little floof ball, Alfie, and am just generally living my best life.    

I have met a lot of people in my life and I would have to say you have one of the strongest sense of humour I have ever seen. Did you know that? Where do you think it comes from?

Are you saying I am the funniest person you know?! I had no idea.   

If I really sit and think about it, I think even from a young age I have always been able to see the funny side of things, and have loved making people laugh and smile.  Going through the transplant journey has probably definitely given me a stronger sense of humour (albeit sometimes a little sick), and I truly think a lot of it comes from self-acceptance.  I have been through more than most people go through in a lifetime, but that has only made me stronger and allowed me to really see things in a different light.  I also promised myself that I wouldn’t let my health or sickness consume me, and I think a sense of humour helps me to remain optimistic.  We have really tried to embrace what is happening, and the cards that we have been dealt and I think if we couldn’t see the funny side in it, or if we didn’t laugh, we would probably cry all the time.  I have learnt that life is absolutely too short, and you never know when it could be taken away from you – so you have to enjoy it and you have to smile.  At the end of the day, no matter how tough life seems at the time, there is almost always someone worse off.   My team of doctors often say that if it wasn’t for my outlook on life I probably wouldn’t have come as far as I have, but in my eyes I don’t see the alternative as even a choice. As cliché as it sounds, laughter really is the best medicine – and our attitude and approach toward challenges that life throws at plays a major role. 

At this stage we are aware that you need another transplant in the foreseeable future. What do you do to get ready for that?

That’s right!  My current airbags have given me a beautiful, epic 11 extra years of life so far, and although we would love them to, they were never meant to last forever.  I mean, let’s just think about that – I physically have someone else’s organs in my body, keeping me alive (I’m border line super human).  Being heavily immunocompromised means I am highly susceptible to any little bug, or bacteria and infection.  So over the years I have copped a few coughs and colds, and viruses that have damaged my lungs to the point that they are now heavily scarred.  At the moment, I operate at about 19% capacity.  Just to put that into perspective for you, a “normal” person my height and weight would have a lung function of approximately 2.9-3.0L/Sec.  Mine sits at about 0.60L/Sec on a good day.  I’ll let that sink in..  Some days I feel like I am walking around breathing through a straw, other days I feel amazing.  But, given no one should live a life where they struggle to breath, the decision was made to consider a second transplant, or a “re-do” as well call it in lung world.     

Right now, I am being assessed for a second transplant, and basically that involves me preparing my body for its (second) biggest challenge.  In addition to maintaining my general health, I see an Exercise Physiologist three times a week, and am working on building overall strength and conditioning so when the time comes to be re-transplanted, the road to recovery is a lot easier. My strength is also a precondition to qualifying for a second transplant.   The team at Barefoot is also playing a major role right now, by tuning me up, so I can keep building that strength.  I have an epic team of health practitioners on my team right now, and they all play a really important role in my future.         

You and your husband have been together through all this – can you give him a rating out of 10 😉 and share an example of how he supports you.(side note: Lara’s husband Todd is a friend of Sal’s, is Barefoot’s sparky and refrigeration mechanic and is the butt of many jokes at Barefoot about remembering his physio appointments)

Oh look, he is probably a solid 12.  Todd is the perfect balance for me – If anyone has ever met him, you know he is literally a tornado of energy and you cannot stop him.  He is pretty cut & dry, so he also shows me a little bit of tough love, which to be honest with you I probably need (even though I may not think it at the time).  Todd knows when to push me enough to keep me going, but also knows when to hold off.  His energy is probably one of my biggest motivations.  Support from him seems to come so easy, and it is really second nature to him so I am incredibly grateful.  His support scales from the simplest things like carrying the groceries up the stairs for me, all the way through to sitting on the floor crying with me over the unknown and what might be ahead of us.  Nothing seems to waiver Todd, and I know that he is the best support person I could ever ask for.  I couldn’t do any of this without Todd.  He is also really great at bringing me all of the good snacks and food when I am stuck in the hospital, because let’s be honest, no one likes hospital food. I met Todd only a few short months before I got sick and we were super young, so my expectations were pretty low.  I mean, he definitely had better things to do than hang around a hospital.  Turns out, I should have given him more credit.   

Can you share a message for anyone that is considering being an organ donor, or isn’t sure if they are one

If I am brutally honest – don’t even think twice.  Just do it.   

There are plenty of misconceptions and myths around organ transplant / donation which is probably peoples biggest turnoff, but what I have found is that telling my story provides people with a little more education, and opens their eyes to what it can actually achieve.  I am living proof it works, and its pretty bloody good.  One organ donor can change the life of up to 10 people.  That’s pretty cool if you think about.   

I know so many people I talk to think they have it covered, they ticked that box when they got their drivers licence 30+ years ago, but that is a thing of the past.  You now need to be a registered organ donor on the Australian Organ Donation Register and this is all done through medicare.  The most important part though, is to discuss this decision with your loved ones and next of kin because ultimately they are the ones that make the decision.   

Each year approximately 1,600 Australians wait for an organ transplant, whether it be heart, lung, livers or kidneys.  In Australia, sadly, viable organs can only be taken from a small pool of people and those deaths count for a minute percent of the population, and from that even less donate.   

I promise you; a double lung transplant was the farthest expectation for my life that you, or I could ever have possibly imagined.  It’s one of those things that you never think will happen to you, or someone you know or love. But you shouldn’t discredit that.  Sometimes life has its own plan for you and you just have to follow the path that’s been paved.  If after reading this just one extra person registers, or even has the chat with their family, then I have made a difference.  Death isn’t something anyone wants to think about, or discuss with their family but the reality of it is, is that it is inevitable.  Life can, sadly be taken away from us in an instant, and in the event that it does, wouldn’t you like to know that you’ve saved someone’s life ?


10 years since double lung transplant!
Jayde 4WD

Jayde – weekend adventurer and all round legend :)

Jayde is a hilarious pocket rocket that does some pretty cool things on the weekend. We love hearing all her stories so asked her to share a bit about her life with us. Questions by Sal

1 – Superstar Jayde! You have some sweet adventurous weekends… can you explain what VMR is and what you do in it?

VMR stands for Volunteer Marine Rescue, and our base is in Southport next to the SeaWorld Resort. I find the easiest way to describe what we do is like RACQ, but for boats. We provide towing to people who have broken down or run out of fuel or cannot return to their boat ramps due to any issues with their boats. We have also been involved in searches for missing people in co-ordinance with the Water Police. I’ve been with the organisation for about 10 years now and joined as I wanted to acquire more life skills. When I was growing up, our family had boats and I’ve always enjoyed being out on the water. The organisation is amazing as you learn so much through all their training modules about the waterways, how to operate a boat and lead a crew, and obviously about the boats themselves. About 8 years ago, VMR and the QLD ambulance Service joined forces for to create a role in the service for First Responders. The role was set out to provide a higher level of care until paramedics were able to arrive on scene. Obviously being out on the water, an ambulance cannot get to you quicker than on road, so these crew members are able to be dispatched for immediate care and then another crew transports the ambulance personnel to the scene of the accident. About 5 years ago, I joined the First Responder group and haven’t looked back since. I have also worked my way up to a VMR crew ranking of inshore skipper which meanss I can take a boat out with a crew on my own.  The knowledge and extra skills I have learned through both organisations have been paramount and I am thankful to be part of 2 awesome communities.

Jayde VMR

2 – Still on weekends and adventures, we know you’re a 4WDing maddog – can you tell us about a recent trip you did? (Where did you go, who did you go with and some highlights)

My first big annual trip last year was out through the Simpson Desert. 3 weeks on the road, 6300kms and the most amazing experiences. The family I travelled with have done the desert crossing about 8 times, so I have complete trust and faith in the awesome people I travel with. I started out from Brisbane and met up with everyone in Birdsville. We were in the desert for about 4 days before arriving into Kulgera (first and last pub in SA). Hot showers and a meal that we didn’t need to cook was very welcomed! From there I split from the group and headed out to Ayers Rock to go and experience all its magnificence. It was a very humbling experience to have it put into perspective just how tiny and fleeting we are in this world when you see this massive rock in the middle of nowhere. I met back up with the group and we then ventured north through Boggy Hole, Palm Valley, Hermannsburg and into Alice Springs. We spent 2 nights there and I visited the National Transport Hall of Fame. I work for a transport company so it’s amazing to see the heritage that logistics and trucks have in our country. From Alice Springs we headed up to Boulia then down through Bladensburg National Park and Winton into Longreach where I spent 2 days in the Stockman’s Hall of Fame. Another extremely humbling experience that makes you proud to be an Australian. From there it was homeward bound sadly. On our last day of travel, we witnessed 2 drover runs of cattle and after the extraordinary journey we had just completed, I had to fight back tears. After a big trip like that, it definitely takes you a week to get your headspace back to civilisation! Camping for me is an opportunity to leave behind the hustle of life, nothing beats a campfire and being surrounded by quality and likeminded people.

Jayde 4WD

3 – Now there is a special 4-legged creature in your life – Tell us about Chloe – what kind of dog is she, and what do you two get up to together?

I adopted Chloe 3 years ago from the QLD Staffy and Amstaff Rescue. She is 6 and a half years old and we believe an Amstaff X Bull Arab. She is the sweetest, gentlest dog and the biggest sook. She loves people and would lick you to death if she was given the chance! She loves camping with me, car rides and going on trips out to the beach, Bunnings or the pet shop (more cuddles). She has gotten me through some very dark days and knows exactly how to cheer me up when I need it. I promised her a life of love and adventure and I spoil her rotten – I always joke that she eats better than I do (which is true!). She always makes me laugh with her goofy antics, she loves to rough house with the cat and is always up for snuggles. She has the most amazing eyes, which I have found to be the most expressive as well. She’s taught me patience, a depth of love I didn’t know existed and to live in the moment. Nothing beats waking up to the wagging tail and her smiley, loveable face every morning!

Jayde doggo

Shellie – recharging the Energizer bunny :)

Shellie is a superstar – an incredible human who brings laughter and fun to everywhere she is. We have always admired her and even more after watching her learn to take care of herself fully over the last year and becoming an advocate for true self care. Here’s to recharging batteries! Questions by Caitlin

You have travelled to some interesting and stunning places. Tell us more about some of your favourite destinations and where to next!

Choosing my favourite destination is a hard one! I am definitely going back to Egypt because it’s an amazing country and I didn’t get to see all of it, but I really loved the tiny town of Chefchaouen in Morocco. It’s a beautiful town with lovely people and the 6 hour bus trip from Casablanca to Chefchaouen is a chance to see the countryside fly by!  The next big trip I’m planning is a long one covering South Korea and Japan.

Until recently, you were balancing a full time office job and coaching group boxing sessions. That requires some serious commitment! What makes you passionate about coaching?

Coaching was definitely one of my happy places, despite the very early mornings! One of my favourite things about coaching was creating programs that people loved to hate! 😊 I loved getting to know the clients – what exercises they loved/dreaded, and what kind of formats they responded to.

You’ve recently been on a journey of self-care – can you tell us more about what you’ve learned and what changes you’ve made as a result

I’ll try and be as concise as possible with this one, but there’s so much to it! The most important thing I’ve learned – that I thought I already knew, but didn’t – is that checking in with your health (mental and physical) needs to be part of your daily routine regardless of how good you feel. It’s shockingly easy when there’s a lot going on in life to slip down from feeling great and on top of everything, to being unable to handle anything. I jot down (in my awesome wellbeing battery journal! plug!) what my battery level is each day, how much water I drank and how many steps I did. This gives me a clear picture of what is happening in my day, and I can see when I need to slow down to recover from work or physical stress – or when I can push myself more. I started doing this in May last year when my battery was in the red every day, and I still do it every day now that I’m green most days! It’s actually what keeps my battery more full – without knowing where I am today, I can’t make decisions that are beneficial to my tomorrow.

The biggest mental hurdle though, was making peace with resting and going back to basics. Accepting that some days all I can do is go for a long walk, and knowing that other days I can complete a 45 min hiit sesh. The word ‘balance’ gets thrown around a lot, but it absolutely is the key, and listening to my body and my mind about what I really need that day is the biggest change I’ve made 🙂

Barefooter Evelyn – Dentistry, Pilates, Travel and her Puppy

Barefooter Kate Mendel loves her Rock Climbing!

Our Barefooter Kate Mendel loves her rock climbing.