After undergoing a double lung transplant on July 15, Ladysmith’s Jackie Bates says she hasn’t felt so good since she was 10 years old.
“It’s weird – amazing really. Every day is a new feeling. Being able to take a breath and actually keep going, being able to actually fill my lungs, being able to hold my breath, it’s amazing. Yesterday I went for my longest walk, I went two hours without O2.”
Bates suffers from cystic fibrosis, a genetic disorder that can cause issues with organs, primarily the lungs. People with cystic fibrosis are prone to lung infections that decrease lung capacity over time. Before her transplant, Jackie used a wheelchair and oxygen tanks.
“I couldn’t go more than 15 minutes without them,” she said. “I went from slow and sleepy, to now hyper and apparently I don’t shut up.”
With her increased lung function, Bates is having all sorts of new sensations. The feeling has returned to her feet, her muscle function, and heart function have improved. And most importantly, she can now take full breaths.
“It’s a completely different life now,” she said.
Every day, Bates checks her heart, lungs, temperature, and takes two pulmonary function tests a day. She’s staying in Vancouver with her mother, Jody while she recovers from the transplant. If there is no rejection of her new lungs, Bates and her mother can return home to Ladysmith at the end of October.
Jody said that watching her daughter take regular breaths were her new lungs is an indescribable experience.
“It’s incredible, absolutely incredible,” she said.“Within 48 hours of her transplant, her colour was completely different, she breathes different, she didn’t cough. She looks amazing, just like she did when she was a little girl. She went from white, and grey, with blue lips to full colour with pink cheeks, and pink lips.”
Bates and her family had been fundraising for months prior to the transplant to pay for living expenses while she recovers in Vancouver.
The community of Ladysmith donated several thousand dollars to help fund Bates’ recovery expenses, including community groups like the the Ladysmith Fish and Game Club which donated $2,000; the Ladysmith Kinsmen donated $3,000; and another hunting group that Bates is a part of donated $2,000.
“The final big donation was when I climbed up a tree and saved a cat and it ended up on the news,” Bates said.
Bates climbed roughly 60-feet up a tree – with her oxygen tank in tow – to rescue her neighbour’s cat after it became stuck in a tree. Her efforts made headlines, and brought awareness to her fundraiser.
“Thank you to everyone, that’s the biggest thing I can say. They gave me a second chance at having a life. I wasn’t supposed to see Christmas, so the fact that I might see Light Up again is pretty cool.”
If there’s no rejection, Bates’ new lungs are expected to last for five years, however they can last up to 30 or 40 years. So far, there are no signs of rejection, and doctors have been giving Bates nothing but good news.
“That’s not something we’re ever used to hearing in a doctor’s office,” Jody said. “I always go in guarded, ready to hear what next horrible thing is happening, what next medication we need to try, where we’re going to get money for the next experimental drug to keep Jackie alive. Now it’s the complete opposite. She’s living life, breathing. She’s healthy. I can’t even explain it – it’s an incredible feeling.”
Bates encourages the community to consider becoming organ donors. Without organ donors, Bates would not have her new lungs. The lungs, heart, liver, kidneys, pancreas and bowel can be donated. Folks in B.C. can register as an organ donor through BC Transplant’s Organ Donation Registry.