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!
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