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Friday, 03 July 2015

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Barrow Brave heart swap mum tells of her fight for life

A SINGLE mum has spoken of her fight for life after doctors told her she would die without a heart transplant.

RECOVERING: Kerry Alexander at home in Barrow with her son, Connor Alexander, 15, after undergoing a lifesaving heart transplant operation earlier this year

Kerry Alexander is the proud mother of Connor, a 15-year-old St Bernard’s pupil who has quite literally given her a reason to live.

Four years ago, Mrs Alexander developed angina and then heart failure. After suffering a heart attack at her home in Fife Street, Barrow, she was rushed to hospital in Blackpool and had a stent fitted to widen one of the arteries carrying blood away from her heart.

“Everything was going fine but then two years later I got a sickness bug and was really ill,” the 41-year-old recalled.

“I was sweating like mad with chest pains so we called an ambulance and they told me I was having a heart attack. The stent had come loose then a clot worked its way up and I developed heart failure.”

Attempts to treat Mrs Alexander’s condition with drugs failed and doctors then told her that without a heart transplant, she would die.

Connor, who is as devoted to his mum as she is to him, admitted he found things difficult when his mum broke the news to him.

“She’s put up with a lot, with me, it’s not been easy,” he said.

“When I first told Connor I needed a heart transplant, he was in denial,” his mum explained. “And I had to do what no mother should ever have to do and think about what will happen to him if I die. It broke my heart.”

In the UK, the average waiting time for a heart transplant for adults is six months. But Mrs Alexander was on the list for just three days before a match was found.

She recalled: “I went for a check-up on February 24 this year. They put me on the list that same day and three days later they rang and said they’d found me a heart. I was gobsmacked, as you hear about people waiting for years.”

Within hours of being transported to Wythenshawe Hospital by ambulance, Mrs Alexander was rolled into the operating theatre. But despite coming through the operation, and after being kept in a medically-induced coma to allow her new heart to settle, things took a turn for the worse.

Having contracted pneumonia shortly after the transplant, Mrs Alexander described how she feared she was dying.

“I thought that was it, my body was rejecting the heart and I was dying. I almost gave up,” she said.

“But then, I thought about Connor and I knew that I had to fight. I had to survive for him. I was determined that I was coming home, for Connor. Dying wasn’t an option.”

The devoted mum, who worked as a delivery driver for Dodd’s Florists in Ulverston before she was taken ill, now takes each day at a time. Having spent the last three months undergoing rehab and physio, when she had to learn to walk, write and drive all over again, she is determined to live life to the full.

She said: “At one point I couldn’t even sit up in a chair, it was like climbing Everest. But I took one step, then two and all along I was telling myself ‘Do it for Connor, he needs you’. And I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for him – he’s the reason I’ve survived.”

Mrs Alexander hopes that one day she will be able to thank the family of the donor – a woman in her 40s from “somewhere in the North West”.

“I would like to get in contact with her family. But I feel guilty,” she said, with tears in her eyes. “Why did she have to die so I could live?”

Much has been written about the possibility that the recipient of a new heart may develop traits of the donor’s personality. Such studies are limited, by the very nature of the rarity of heart transplants, but Mrs Alexander has noticed unusual changes which she cannot explain.

She said: “I can’t help but wonder if she was artistic. I’ve never been into art, but I’ve suddenly decided I want to get into card-making and my first attempts aren’t bad at all.”

Only half of all heart transplant patients live longer than 10 years after the operation. But Mrs Alexander remains positive.

“Some people have lived more than 30 years after a transplant,” she said. “I’m going to make the most of my life now, I’ve been given a second chance and I intend to spend as much time as I can with my son.”

Mrs Alexander, who was keen to tell her story to encourage others to “never give up hope”, has been nominated for the Love Barrow Courage award, sponsored by Furness College, with the winner set to be picked by the public. The nomination form, completed anonymously, stated: “Kerry, a single mum of a 15-year-old boy, would do anything for anybody but never asks for anything. She is such a caring and happy-go-lucky person.”

The judging panel will meet tomorrow to go through all nominations and select a shortlist.


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