When Elaine Lovie, 50 from Irvine, jetted off to Portugal for a holiday with her partner, Raymond, she had no idea her life was about to take such a dramatic turn.
In August 2011, a few weeks before Elaine set off she suffered a brief loss of speech, prompting her to visit a doctor immediately. Her GP ran some tests and found that although her liver enzymes were slightly elevated, there was nothing to worry about. The loss of speech was simply put down to a severe migraine and Elaine was told to go and enjoy her holiday.
Elaine said: “When I was on holiday I felt like something wasn’t quite right, but I just thought it was a urine infection and was determined not to let it ruin my holiday. I went to a local pharmacy and got some cystitis medication and thought no more of it.”
When Elaine returned, she discovered there was something much more serious wrong.
She said: “We arrived home on the Friday and I felt just the same. But on the Saturday morning, I woke up absolutely drenched in sweat and I knew something was wrong. I didn’t feel well at all. Raymond rushed me straight to A&E where I was told that I was jaundiced. I was taken straight to Crosshouse Hospital in Kilmarnock so that doctors could run tests and hopefully get to the bottom of what was wrong with me.
“By the following day, my bowel had perforated and the damage had affected my kidneys. I was told I needed to be transferred to the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh to undergo a biopsy, but I wasn’t physically well enough to even make the journey for another two weeks.”
When Elaine eventually arrived, doctors carried out a biopsy along with other various tests to assess the extent of the damage caused. The next day Elaine received the devastating news.
She said: “I was told that although my kidneys and perforated bowel were healing, my liver was barely functioning. The doctor prepared me for the worst. I was told that I had a very slim chance of making it through the weekend.”
At this point, as her condition was so severe, Elaine was put on the urgent waiting list for a liver transplant. However, there was little chance of an organ becoming available when time was so limited.
“Loads of my friends and family came to visit me in hospital and I said goodbye to each one of them. I was thinking I would never see them again.”
Whilst coming to terms with the overwhelming news, Elaine was told that a liver had become available and that it could potentially be a suitable match. She went through all the necessary tests and after an agonising wait, Elaine found out that the liver was in fact suitable. She underwent surgery that same day, less than 48 hours after being placed on the waiting list.
Elaine said: “When I woke up after the operation, I couldn’t fully comprehend what I had just gone through. It all happened so quickly. I just remember looking around and thinking ‘I’m going to be OK’. I didn’t realise how ill I had actually been until I had the transplant.
“I felt like a new person. Everyone commented on how well I looked compared to how I was before the transplant. My eyes had been yellow and sunken but after the surgery I looked instantly healthier.”
To this day, doctors are still unable to fully explain what happened to Elaine. It is likely that there had been an underlying problem which went unnoticed for some time, but it’s impossible to say for definite.
Elaine said: “I’m so grateful to my donor. They’ve given me such an amazing gift. I was very naïve before. I’d never known anyone who had experienced organ donation in any way so it was never something I thought about. As soon as this happened to me, all my friends and family signed up to the organ donor register straight away.
“It’s so important to speak about organ donation with your loved ones. If you don’t make your wish to be an organ donor known then that wish could be wasted – a wish that could have saved several lives. It’s not an easy conversation to have but it needs to be done.”