A mum planned her own funeral when doctors told her she might not recovery from devastating liver failure.
Gemma Jolly was seriously ill in 2015 and it was thought that a transplant had saved her life.
But just six months later she became severely jaundiced, and learned the donor liver had begun to fail too, reports Birmingham Live.
The mum-of-two spent a year on the transplant list, and began to feel that ‘the call’ she was waiting for would never come.
But thanks to amazing new technology, Gemma underwent a second transplant at Birmingham’s Queen Elizabeth Hospital in November.
And this time the donor liver was ‘washed’ before transplantation, increasing the chances of success.
The remarkable procedure removes all the fatty deposits from the organ before surgery.
Now, six months on, Gemma is back enjoying family life with husband Mike, and can look forward to seeing ons George and Harrison grow up.
“I have a future now,” says Gemma, 41, who has two sons, George, 18 and Harrison, 13.
The nightmare began in 1997 when she was diagnosed with auto-immune hepatitis, a rare and chronic disease where the liver begins to attack itself.
At first, doctors were able to manage the condition with medication. But following the birth of her children, her health rapidly deteriorated.
After being transferred to the care of Queen Elizabeth Hospital, the doctors realised that her liver was being eaten away, and she became progressively more ill.
“The doctors tried all sorts of medication and tablets, but they just couldn’t get in under control,” recalls Gemma.
“They told me that in the future the worst case scenario was that I’d need a liver transplant.”
By 2015, Gemma became critically ill, and was admitted to intensive care.
Doctors told her husband Mike that the situation was so severe that is was very possible Gemma would die.
“I was advised to tell our boys that she wasn’t going to make it,” remembers Mike.
“That was the worst thing I’ve had to do as a dad.”
Gemma was put on the transplant list and received her first liver transplant in May 2016.
“I look back and I don’t think I realised at the time how ill I was,” she admits.
“I was in and out of hospital for eight months, never really spending more than 48 hours at home.
“This was hard for the boys – they found it really difficult.”
Gemma underwent her first transplant, and for the first six months, all was well.
But soon her donor liver began to fail and she was added to the transplant list once again.
In October 2018, she was admitted to hospital with severe jaundice, and liver surgeon Thamara Perera came to visit her.
“He came to visit me on the ward and he asked whether I’d be interested in signing up for a process whereby I would have a transplant using a brand new piece of equipment at the hospital.,” says Gemma. “It was a no-brainer for me. Mr Perera had carried out my first transplant and he explained it really well.”
Despite the availability of the machine, Gemma was still in need of a suitable organ.
Then, at 5.45am on November 7 last year, she finally got the call that a liver had been found.
“Everything just goes in slow motion,” she says. “There’s a conflict of emotions. You feel relieved that a liver has been found.
“But you also feel guilty because you know somewhere there is a family that has lost a loved one.
“Before my first transplant I was really nervous, but the second time around I was a bit calmer because I knew I was in safe hands.
“Before I went into surgery, Mr Perera told me that if it were not for the machine, I wouldn’t have been able to have that liver as it took a long time to come over, and by looking at it, they wouldn’t have considered it suitable.”
Gemma’s new liver was placed inside the OrganOx machine where it was then cleaned, and the fatty deposits were washed away, ready for it to be transplanted.
This process can take up to four hours, but in Gemma’s case it was ready within 40 minutes.
Mike says: “Mr Perera told us that it was a beautiful liver. This was such a relief to hear!
“We got the call before 6am to say that they had a liver for Gemma, but the surgery wasn’t until 7.30pm that night.”
This time around, Gemma felt completely different when she woke up, immediately feeling ‘healthy and energised’.
Within two hours, she was out of bed and sitting up in a chair in the ward.
“It’s hard to explain but I feel totally different,” says Gemma. “I feel ready to get up and go.”
Gemma says she still thinks of her donor every day.
The woman donor gave her the gift of life so that she can see her two sons grow up.
“I think of her every day,” says the Northamptonshire mum.
“I know that she was around the same age as me and she died of a brain aneurysm.
“I think about whether she might have had children. I hope if so, that they’re OK.
“I have a candle that I light for her on special occasions, and I’ll always be grateful for her gift to me.”
There are others she thanks too.
The remarkable equipment used to wash the liver was funded by the Ann Fox Foundation.
It is a group which raises money in memory of Ann, who passed away following a liver transplant.
Now, Gemma has been able to return to work and has recently started a new job supporting teenagers with learning difficulties at a local college.
Earlier this month, she was reunited with her surgeon Mr Perera at an event celebrating the 5,000th liver transplant in Birmingham.
“It’s good to be able to plan for the future again,” she says. “Life goes on hold when you’re unwell.
“We’re starting to plan a nice holiday abroad with the boys. They deserve it after everything they’ve been through.
“From the bottom of our hearts, we thank you. I’ve got my life back, and my boys have got their mum back.”
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