How a transplant has given Joshua his mum back

Wendy Lingham

Three years ago Wendy Lingham was so ill that she was planning her own funeral, and worrying about her son growing up without her. She's now taken part in the British Transplant Games twice, as she tells Sarah Brealey.

The 35-year-old from York says: “It was incredible to take part, because a few years before I couldn’t do anything. Everyone taking part had their own stories, but what we have in common is we cherish every second of every day."

Wendy discovered that she had cardiomyopathy four days after giving birth to her son Joshua, when she was just 23. Her heart wasn’t pumping blood around her body properly, causing symptoms of heart failure including extreme breathlessness. She was treated with medications, but developed heart rhythm problems, and was in and out of hospital, which she describes as “very draining”.

What we have in common is we cherish every second of every day

In 2009 Wendy suffered a cardiac arrest and needed treatment in intensive care. She lost some of her memory, and can’t remember celebrating her son’s seventh birthday.

She recovered, but gradually her health deteriorated until she was “practically bed-bound” and needed help from family and friends to look after her son. She says: “It was hard on Joshua. He’d always known me being ill. I couldn’t take him out like other mums do with their children.”

In 2011, when Wendy was 32, she was admitted to hospital and told that without a transplant she had six to 12 weeks to live. Luckily, a heart became available three weeks later. Explaining the situation to Joshua was a difficult conversation to have. She says: “How do you explain something like that to an eight-year-old? It is very hard. The transplant co-ordinator was brilliant – she helped me to explain it.

Wendy Lingham“Joshua has handled it well, but it was very hard on him at the time, he was extremely upset. Having the support of close friends and of my mum helped a lot. He understands about all the medication I have to take on a daily basis and he knows not to touch my tablets.”

Wendy suffered a haemorrhage during the operation and had a slow, complicated recovery. She spent three months in hospital and recalls: “I couldn’t walk, talk or write. I needed lots of physio to learn to walk again without a zimmer frame”.

So Wendy treasures the fact that now she can be active with Joshua, now 11. “I can now go biking with him, go on walks and do all manner of physical activity with him,” she says. “I taught him to swim. There are so many things I can do with him now – it’s amazing. I’ve noticed the difference in him since I got better.”

Wendy, who works as a care assistant, has done the BHF's Heart of York bike ride for the last two years, and is doing it again this year as part of a team of transplant recipients. She says was thrilled to support the BHF and help raise funds for research into heart failure.

We are doing it for an extra-special reason – to show honour and respect to our donors, and to show what organ donation can do

The first time Wendy did the ride, she wore a heart pinned to her shirt on which she wrote: “Someone special in heaven saved my life”, as a way of honouring the person whose heart was donated to her.

“It was a huge challenge, but it was wonderful to be able to do it,” she says. “And to give something back to the BHF, and also to say ‘Look what organ donation can do’. It doesn’t just save lives, it transforms them.

 “If someone hadn’t signed the Organ Donor Register I wouldn’t be here today, and Joshua wouldn’t have his mum.”

She points out that although the Transplant Games are lower-profile than the Commonwealth Games, “We can be just as competitive. We don’t have funding for our training, we do it in our own time with our own money.

“We are doing it for an extra-special reason – to show honour and respect to our donors, and to show what organ donation can do.”

  • Read how Iron Man Kyle has beaten cancer and heart failure, and watch our video of training tips from Kyle and Commonwealth Games heptathlete Louise Hazel.
  • Read how a heart transplant has given Suzanne a future.

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