19 May 2020

My name is Michelle Hemmings. I’m 47-years-old and I’m from Birmingham.

When I was 24 I was diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis (scarring and stiffening of the lungs) and mild pulmonary hypertension (high blood pressure in the blood vessels that supply the lungs).

For most of my life I learned to live with this condition and tried to carry on with my life. I kept telling myself that it is going to rule me, I am going to rule it!

I concentrated on my party planning business; I tried to do odd jobs in the house. My symptoms were manageable and I just took each challenge one day at a time, with positivity and determination. Even when I felt drained I still tried to push myself but it was getting so hard by now.

My condition gradually worsened and reached the point where I constantly needed oxygen to survive. This meant having a portable oxygen tank with me all the time. I could hardly walk up the stairs without feeling out of breath.

In 2016, I slowly began to deteriorate. I can only describe it as feeling like I was carrying a tank on my shoulders. Now, it could take my up to 15 minutes to climb a flight of stairs, that’s how breathless I was and how much my lungs were being affected.

I was called in twice for a transplant, although both times the procedure didn't take place

My declining health forced me to stop working and I was now on the transplant list for a single lung. I again tried to be optimistic but there was always a thought in the back of my mind: ‘How long will I have to wait for a suitable donor, especially with a shortage of people from black and Asian backgrounds donating their organs? People die whilst waiting.’

In January 2017 I was placed on the urgent list because my health had continued to go downhill. I was called in twice for a transplant, although both times the procedure didn’t take place.

The first time was because the organ, after a thorough investigation, was deemed not suitable. As you can imagine this was very disappointing and upsetting as I didn’t know how long I could carry on with my current health, but it is important that these checks are made and only appropriate organs transplanted.

I soon learnt that the hospital usually call between midnight and 02:00 if there was a chance of a transplant taking place, so I would stay up until 02:00 every night/morning in case I got the call. I was on my toes every day.

All of a sudden I had the call to say they had found a match that was compatible for me. I was so emotional, scared, shocked, happy, and overwhelmed all rolled into one.

Luckily my suitcase was packed months ago. I slowly started to get dressed. My heart was beating so fast but I tried to stay calm.

I tried not to look too worried in front of my mum and dad, but especially in front of my daughter. I knew I wouldn’t be able to talk if the transplant went ahead as I would have tubes inserted into my lungs, so I asked my mum to squeeze my hand if the operation had been a success.

I was picked up, headed to Royal Papworth and the operation took place. It took six hours.

When I felt that squeeze from my mum, I was so relieved and knew that life was going to get better.

More than two years on and I’m a picture of health: I have the energy to do everyday tasks that were impossible before my transplant; I can breathe unaided; walk without getting breathless; and go up and down the stairs without having to stop!

My life has been transformed

I was coughing 24/7 for 22 years, but not now. I was unable to travel and visit places, but not now.

I give talks to medical students and at my GP surgery. I have participated in the British Transplant Games. I have put on charity and organ donation awareness events with the BAME community.

More donors from black, Asian and minority ethnic groups are urgently needed to address an increase in patients from the same communities dying whilst waiting for an organ transplant. Organ donation is perhaps something that we do not talk about much within the black and Asian community, but i do feel that it is important for us to begin to talk about it more among ourselves.

Even after the change in the law it is important that people still talk to their loved ones about their wishes.

If you were ever in a situation where you no longer needed your organs, would you want to be able to give the gift of life to someone else?

My life has been transformed. I am so grateful to my consultants, surgeons, nurses and all the staff at Royal Papworth Hospital.

It is with heartfelt sincerity that I am thanking my donor who has given me this opportunity. From the bottom of my heart, thank you, so very much, for giving me the gift of life.

Find out more about the organ donation law change in England

Find our more about Royal Papworth Hospital's transplant service