A woman has urged the nation to talk to their family members about organ donation after her body began ‘eating away’ at her liver.
Gemma Jolly, 45, spent months in and out of intensive care, and at one point forgot who she or her children were, when her health deteriorated.
The mum suffered from auto-immune hepatitis – a condition where her immune system attacked her liver cells.
After two failed liver transplants, her third in March 2021 was a success – and now she’s back at work and planning her first family holiday in years to celebrate the recovery.
‘It was an incredibly difficult thing for my children to deal with, watching their mum go through not one but three liver transplants,’ said Gemma, who lives in Northampton with her 48-year old husband and two children.
‘I was in and out of intensive care and at one point they were even advised to say their goodbyes.’
This is the longest time her health has been stable after a transplant, which she hopes continues.
After first being diagnosed with auto-immune hepatitis in 1997, it wasn’t until having her children that her health turned for the worse.
‘It started off as manageable, I’d struggle with tiredness and jaundice, things would improve with each pregnancy,’ said Gemma.
‘After having my second son, my health went totally off the scale.’
She regularly suffered from infections, fluid in her lungs and sepsis.
In 2015, she was admitted into intensive care at Kettering General hospital , and her family were called in at 3AM to say goodbye, after it was thought that she wouldn’t ‘pull through’ an emergency procedure.
However, she did, and once stable was informed that she would need a liver transplant.
This was due to encephalopathy, which is when the liver can’t cope with the toxins – as a result she would go through periods of time where she didn’t know who she or her children were.
‘The two of them did find it quite difficult and so did my husband, my husband just sort of carried on for the children more than anything,’ she said.
After her first liver transplant in 2016, her symptoms started to reappear after six months of going back to normal.
She struggled with jaundice and fatigue, and it soon became clear that her transplant was failing her.
Put back on the waiting list, Gemma had her second procedure in November 2019.
While she had a slower recovery period, the mum gradually started to feel like herself again, until her liver started failing her yet again.
‘I got the phone call saying that all of my bloods had gone haywire all over again,’ she said.
Gemma was told she would need to go in to hospital to wait for an organ to become available and due to the Covid-19 pandemic, she would not be able to leave without risking losing her spot on the transplant list.
In March 2021, the mum had her third liver transplant, which was finally a success.
‘I’ve been really wary because things have gone wrong before but this is the longest I’ve been stable after a transplant so I’m hopeful that this will continue,’ she said.
It’s good to be able to plan for the future again, life goes on hold when you’re unwell,’ she added.
Now, Gemma is enjoying normality and family life, and has plans to go on her first family holiday in years.
Regaining her health, and loving life, Gemma has said that ‘every day is a gift.’
‘We’ve always had to holiday in the UK as I couldn’t be more than four hours away from the hospital while I was on the transplant waiting list, so we’re planning a big family holiday to Crete for next year,’ she said.
‘My family and my employer, the mental health charity, St Andrew’s Healthcare, have been so supportive of me through my journey.’
She added: ‘The main thing I’d want to get across is to speak to your family about your wishes to donate your organs, because ultimately it is down to your family’s wishes on whether your organs get donated to someone on the wait list.’
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