Pamela Rae was diagnosed with heart failure in May 2013, aged 39, when she was 24 weeks pregnant.
Following a trip to A&E to get what she thought were pregnancy related symptoms checked, x-rays showed her heart was enlarged, and she was immediately transferred to intensive care at Golden Jubilee National Hospital.
Pamela, already mum to son Evan, was told the severity of her condition meant her baby would need to be delivered immediately. However specialists managed to get her to 29 weeks, when baby Zack was born by cesarean section, weighing just 3lb 5oz.
Zack was transferred to the special baby unit at the Royal Alexandra in Paisley, whilst Pamela was put on a balloon pump to keep her heart functioning, and placed on the urgent transplant waiting list.
“I was starting to get really swollen legs and was not sleeping right. I just knew something was wrong, but had no idea it was as serious. From the moment I was told, the only thing I was worried about was the baby. He was my only focus. Luckily, the doctors got me a little further in my pregnancy.
“After Zack was born, I was able to look at him on a baby cam, watch him getting his bath, and the team at the Royal Alexandria Hospital kept me informed about his progress.
“Two weeks after he was born, he was well enough to travel and a team brought him to the Jubilee in an incubator for a brief visit. Being able to hold him was incredible, we both needed it.
“You don’t know how long it’s going to take for a suitable heart to be found, there’s no end point with the wait for a transplant. Life as we knew it changed overnight, I missed my brother’s wedding and my partner Jay was trying to work, whilst visiting me and Zack and looking after Evan.
“I knew there was absolutely no chance I’d get better without the transplant. I had to lie on my back, with the balloon pump keeping me alive. I was really lucky as I had no antibodies, meaning there was more scope for a match.”
Pamela waited five weeks in the Jubliee before her transplant went ahead in July 2013, and after being discharged 19 days later, she was able to pick up Zack from the hospital and take him home.
“Life was difficult at first, but my family were an amazing support. I’d lost a lot of muscle and strength and had no immune system. We had nothing ready for Zack because he was 11 weeks early, and I wasn’t able to lift him because of my surgery, but after a bit of time, we got there.”
Pamela returned to her job with Police Scotland a year later, and Zack, now six, is at school and is thriving.
Speaking about her donor, Pamela said:
“How do you thank someone for saving your life? That person is the reason Zack has a mum. There are not enough words in the world to express what they have done for me and my family. I wouldn’t be here, simple as that.
“I think of them often. They saved a mum, partner, daughter, sister, niece and cousin. That gift has impacted on so many lives.
“I think opt out has got to be a good thing as it brings the subject into the public eye and hopefully will get a lot more people discussing it. Those conversations can change lives. I’m living proof of that.”