One amazing lady

This is one of the feature articles I wrote for my journalism course. The assignment was to interview and write about someone who’s been through a life-changing experience. It’s about my friend Charlotte, one amazing lady!


“Wing-walking: I’d love to do that”, says Charlotte just nine months short of the two decade milestone since her first kidney transplant. It is just one of the daring activities on the 31 year old’s adventurous to-do list. If you are in any doubt, ‘wing-walking’ is as it sounds, walking along the wing of an aeroplane in flight. It is not for the faint hearted, but then Charlotte is definitely not that. Having exceeded medical expectations over and over again, Charlotte has the gritty determination to live life to the full and for her that involves doing lots of adrenalin-filled activities.

Aged 12 Charlotte was a seemingly healthy teenager. The only sign of a possible problem was that she and Joanna, her younger sister by three years, were the same height. When Charlotte’s mother took her for a blood test, no-one in the family expected how quickly their world would change. Within half an hour of a phone call from the GP with Charlotte’s test results, she had been admitted into the renal failure ward at London’s Great Ormond Street Hospital. It was Friday 13 July 1990.

An unlucky day for some, Charlotte later learnt that had she gone on the family holiday to Portugal planned in the following weeks, she would almost certainly not have survived. “It was dialysis or die”, she explains. “I was on the transplant list,” she continued. “They try to find them within a year for children but there are no guarantees.” She was lucky, she waited just six weeks for a suitable donor.

But it is not just luck that has defined Charlotte’s medical history and hospital experiences. It is her positivity, determination not to let any illness get the better of her and the unfailing support she has had from her family and close friends.

Told she would never go back to boarding school aged 12 her response was “I’m going to prove them wrong”. And she did. Told her first donated kidney would last eight years, she amazed doctors by living healthily with it for 17 years. Told in 2000 that she had developed a Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma (NHL) in her neck as a result of the immuno-suppressant drugs she was taking for her transplant kidney to function, she became a medical test case for a new treatment approach that avoids using chemotherapy to shrink the growth. She proved it was possible and it is now a common treatment method in NHL patients.

But what came as possibly the biggest shock to Charlotte was realising she needed another kidney transplant in 2007. She admits, “I hoped I’d be invincible. It’s easier to be told what to do when you’re 12. But to go through it again – I wanted to rebel and say no. It’s completely different as an adult. I knew what I had to go through and it was absolutely terrifying.”

This time round doctors turned to Charlotte’s family to test for a possible match. Her mother, father, brother and sister were all compatible but her father and brother were the better matches. Despite them all wanting to help Charlotte and be the one who donated a kidney, she found it difficult. The realisation that “it’s not about me”, she explained was hard to deal with; “knowing a family member had to have a risky operation to keep me alive.”

In the end the doctors chose her father. Charlotte jokes that her brother is now her “backstop” and “safety net”, knowing that her second donated kidney will not last forever. She discovered that her surgeons were keeping it in the family too – Mr Fernando her second transplant surgeon was the son of the surgeon who did her first operation.

Although she is reluctant to say that her medical history has affected her life, Charlotte does admit “It can’t not have had an impact”. She says she has always believed “I can achieve anything as long as I’m sensible”. But what has changed “is my attitude to what other people think. I was more open about it when I was younger… now I want people to get to know me… then, Charlotte with a kidney transplant.”

Her positive attitude is an admirable trait for someone who could easily dwell on her woes. “There was one night in hospital,” she remembers before her first transplant when she sat up thinking, “it’s so unfair. Why me? I hate my life.” But after that night she quickly “got over it.” Her parents and family have helped tremendously, not treating her any differently from her siblings. “They never let me get away with anything like wallowing in my illness”, she says defiantly.

The dare-devil, adrenalin junkie has many mottos to live by including “trust your instincts” and to remember that “hell is temporary and life will go back to normal”. And with that she is off to go for dinner with her ‘8th Day’ friends. They are all members of an adventure group who share her lust for life, living as if there was an 8th day in the week to do fun and daring things. Perhaps she should make sure she tries wing-walking and other extreme activities on a Friday 13th in the future. It’s obviously a lucky day for Charlotte.


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