Maggie is one of ACT's top fundraisers, raising over £75,000 since her liver transplant in 2011. Maggie has organised a charity ball every year since her operation; the first one just a few months after she came out of hospital. She was recently a Pride of Britain nominee, reaching the finals for her incredible fundraising efforts. This is her story.
“It was around Christmas time that I started to feel a little unwell – just tired and off my food. But I just thought I’d got a bug, like everybody else. Then, a few days after Christmas, I went to have my regular flu jab – I’m asthmatic so I get it automatically, but I was a bit late that year. As always, they asked if I was feeling okay, so I told them that I’d lost a bit of weight; didn’t have much of an appetite and was sleeping a lot. They did some blood tests to check everything was in order – checking for diabetes, thyroid, liver and kidney function.
Within 24 hours, I was called back to my GP. When I went in, the first thing he said was “How have you not noticed that you’re jaundiced?”. You would think that, working in a hair salon in front of 50 mirrors, I would’ve noticed! Or someone would anyway! But no-one had, not even my family.”
Maggie spent a lot of time going backwards and forwards to the hospital. She was surviving on half a pot of yoghurt a day as eating caused so much pain. After around five weeks, she collapsed and was rushed to Peterborough Hospital. She wouldn’t go back home for six months.
“I spent eight weeks at Peterborough Hospital, but they couldn’t find out exactly what was wrong with me. AT the end of July 2011, the liver consultant then referred me to Addenbrooke’s.
I was able to go home for the weekend a few times, but the last time my husband had to bring me back within hours because I was just throwing up blood.
I was told I needed a liver transplant and went on the emergency transplant list. I was in the last stages of acute liver disease, although they still didn’t know why. I then started to deteriorate really quickly so I went on the national list, which normally guarantees a transplant within 72 hours. But because I was so tiny, they struggled to find one the right size. By this time, I was on the intensive care unit – on life support.
On Wednesday 4th May they told my husband, Ian, to tell the children that I had until the Monday, and then they would have to turn off the life support, because after that I would be inoperable. There was a lot of praying as you can imagine, although I didn’t know anything about it as I was in and out of consciousness – on morphine and breathing apparatus.
A donor liver came in on the Sunday – I do like to leave things until the last minute! The liver was full size, but they just couldn’t wait for a smaller one. They told my husband that they may not be able to close me up properly during surgery; they might need to leave me open. The liver, although the right tissue match, was not the right blood group – I’m O+, the donor was A+.
However, while I had been in hospital, I had developed ascites, caused by liver disease, which is where the toxins in your body build up as the liver isn’t dealing with them properly. Although I kept having my stomach drained, it had stretched so much they were able to fit in the liver and stitch me up. So that was a bonus!”
After her transplant, Maggie had to re-learn many everyday tasks, even walking and talking, as the toxins had affected her brain. She was in a wheelchair or using a walking frame for months and had other issues.
“I caught an infection in my mouth, so my bottom lip is still numb. I also have a lot of problems with my eyes due to infection, so I am in and out of eye hospitals all the time – both here in Peterborough and at Moorfields. I’m still on a lot of medication and, because I am so tiny, struggle to keep it down. My appetite is also very up and down – some days I don’t want to eat anything at all.”
Since Maggie has had her transplant, she and her friend Sheridan Gaunt have raised £64,000 for ACT by holding an annual ball. The first was held just a few months after her transplant.
“Before I got very ill, I told Sheridan that I’d like to do a charity ball – just the one. And then, when I didn’t think I was going to make it, I asked her to do one in my memory. As it turned out, we were able to organise the first one together and, we thought, that was that. But everyone kept asking when we would be holding the next one, so we just carried on! The last one we held was our eighth! We are really lucky, everyone’s been so supportive, and a lot help me every year – they’re great. We couldn’t do it without them. And we always have a great night!”
Maggie is philosophical about her health and experiences.
“Although what happened to me was horrendous for me and my family, I’m glad it has happened – it has made me the person I am today. I am so grateful to be alive and for all the wonderful staff at Addenbrooke’s that looked after me. I do miss party animal Maggie though!”