Morgan McComb was diagnosed with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy aged just 18 – a condition that resulted in her eventually being hospitalised whilst she waited for a much-needed heart transplant.
The teenager’s hopes of a new life were dashed numerous times, as donor hearts that were found were not suitable.
But all that changed in November 2018, when Morgan’s transplant went ahead, giving her a future.
From the age of 10, Morgan suffered from years of breathlessness, palpatations and blackouts, resulting in a referral to a cardiologist in February 2017 who diagnosed her with the heart condition.
She was put on betablockers immediately, and fitted with a defibrillator as a safety mechanism in case her heart stopped.
Speaking about her diagnosis Morgan said:
“Life became more and more difficult as I got older. In my final year of high school I was passing out three to four times a month and was constantly breathless doing the littlest things. They thought I was asthmatic so went through lots of different inhalers, but nothing seemed to work.
“When I was diagnosed with heart failure, I wasn’t actually upset or scared. I was more relieved they finally knew what was wrong with me, and I felt safe because I knew I was going to be fixed. I always felt it was something more than asthma. My mum and dad were more shocked than me, but it’s always easier to rationalise things when it’s happening to you.”
Morgan was assessed over the summer of 2017, but when she was still breathless after a couple of months on medication, she was referred to specialists at the Golden Jubilee National Hospital.
After a week of tests, Morgan was placed on the routine waiting list for a heart transplant in October 2017, and during her time on the list, received the call three times telling her a donor heart had been found – only for the operation not to go ahead.
“The first time I was called and it didn’t go through I was so disappointed. I was totally prepped and ready for theatre, down to the nail polish being removed from my toes, when I heard that the heart wasn’t suitable.
“I went home and the second call came at 6.30am the following morning. I waited another 12 hours only to be told I wasn’t getting that one either.
“That was definitely the hardest part of the whole journey. To have two offers in a row and to not get either heart was so discouraging. I thought I’d get a heart within a year of being on the routine list and as time went on that seemed to be less of a possibility.”
Morgan gave up her university course and worked in retail, reapplying for a new course which she was due to start after the summer of 2018.
However in September 2018 right heart catheters showed pressures in her heart were higher, and she noticed she was more out of breath than she had been. On her first day of her new course, she was called in by the Golden Jubilee where doctors told her she was being placed on the urgent transplant list.
Morgan was admitted to the Golden Jubilee full time – and only ended up being on the list for seven weeks when her transplant went ahead in the November.
“The team there was absolutely amazing. Everyone was totally focused on getting me a heart. It was difficult being in there full time, the seven weeks went by a lot slower than it sounds, but I was willing to give up a small part of my life to make the rest of my life easier.
“I’d only just turned 20 and was the youngest in my ward by far. I was so lucky as there wasn’t a day that I didn’t have a visitor. I was practically turning people away. My room was all decorated with fairy lights and cards and I’m so appreciative to everyone that kept me sane. I just kept thinking that I was going to be sorted soon.”
Morgan had to go through another call, a week before the actual transplant went ahead.
“I didn’t believe the transplant would actually happen. I’d been told that on very rare occasions a patient could be put under anaesthetic and the operation wouldn’t go ahead and I’d managed to convince myself that was going to happen to me. Even when I went for my chest x-ray, I was so calm, as was my mum. When they said I was going down to theatre I was really shocked, I couldn’t believe it. I’d not got that far before. I said goodbye and cried a bit, but I wanted to keep it together for my parents.
“The next thing I knew, I woke up in the ICU. It was such a smooth process, I remember the first thing I asked my mum and dad was ‘did it really happen?’”
Morgan was discharged after two weeks and a day, and has worked hard at her recovery, going through a programme of cardiac rehab and making sure she gets up and out every day. She is planning going back to the Glasgow School of Art after the summer to do Architecture.
“I don’t know much about my donor, but I’m planning to write to her family on the year anniversary of my transplant.
“Right now I have no idea what I’ll say. I’ve been told multiple times how much of an amazing heart I’ve been given, and its literally opened up my whole life for me. It takes a really good person with a strong family to do that for someone else.
“I cried when I heard the news about the move to opt-out. I was just so pleased, as there are so many people needing a transplant. People like me, just living and waiting. From my point of view I hope it helps more people get to a better quality of life, quicker.
“I’m incredibly grateful to my donor and her family. I know I’m very lucky to have been given this chance, and I hope anyone in a similar position to what I was in will get the same chance soon.
“When I was told that I had to have a transplant, the first thing I did was attempt to contact recipients who were a similar age to me. Over the internet I spoke to a girl from Australia and one from Sweden, who gave me a summary of their experiences. But during my time on the list I never met a single woman who was waiting on a heart or had had a transplant and I found this difficult as I had so many questions. I would’ve loved to have met or properly spoke to someone who’s been through what I have now.
“My hope is that if there are any young girls who are waiting on a heart reading this, they know that they’re not the only one. They’re not alone in this, and there is hope, of a new heart and a new life, and it’s coming for them soon.”