Imagine trying to live life breathing through a straw.
It’s a story Allison Watson knew all too well. Both she and her older sister, Amy, were born with Cystic Fibrosis, but she has received a new beginning – of sorts – following a double lung transplant in 2014.
Her experiences prior to and after that life-changing moment are chronicled in her new book, Transplanted: My Cystic Fibrosis Double-Lung Transplant Story, available from Nimbus Publishing.
“Through the book I want to share with people that you can go through something that medically is terrible, but you can come out the other side and be OK,” Watson said. “It’s hard, but it’s OK for it to be hard and to be challenging. In the end you get better. It’s something I wanted to share.”
While her experiences and the book should provide some information for others with Cystic Fibrosis, Watson said it applies to anyone going through a life-changing or challenging medical issue.
“We don’t talk about our medical experiences enough. I thought if I could share what I went through it could help someone else in a similar situation,” she said. “People talk about chemo, but no one realizes how terrible it is. Being in the hospital is terrible. If I can help anyone that would be great.”
Watson, who works part-time at the Miner’s Memorial Library in Springhill, lived a relatively healthy childhood – other than the fact she had CF, requiring regular clinic visits, daily aerosols and chest percussions.
While the 32-year-old Petitcodiac, N.B. native expected her older sister would require a lung transplant first, it was her health that deteriorated quicker. She had to be placed on the transplant list and result in leaving her career and friends behind and moving Toronto to prepare herself for when the call came for surgery.
“In my early 20s I started getting a lot more infections and hospitalizations for two to three weeks at a time were happening more often,” said Watson, who biked across Canada with her brother in 2008 to raise awareness toward CF. “I kept getting pneumonia and my lung function declined. Eventually my doctor said there’s nothing else that could be done and I had to be placed on the (transplant) list.
She spent 13 months in Toronto and it took approximately about two years from the time she was put off work until she got her lungs.
“I am so fortunate because a lot of people die before they get their transplant,” Watson said.
Watson was hospitalized for two weeks prior to the transplant and admitted to being “out of it” in the days leading up to the surgery. In fact, it’s how she starts her book’s prologue, saying how she woke up confused, on pain medication, not knowing where she was and in a panic because she thought her carbon dioxide levels were up. She thought she was at death’s door.
A nurse told her later that she’d had her transplant four days before.
“My lung function had declined to the point that if I didn’t have the transplant I was going to die. There were so many blood clots and I was basically entering organ failure,” she said.
She remembered being so tired and felt her life was slipping away while she waiting. Getting up a set of stairs was so difficult, as was something as simple as sleeping.
Even after the surgery, it took some time to recover and even writing the book and a blog she kept raised her anxiety. In the end, she admits, it was therapeutic and an important part of her recovery.
“It took about a month for me to realize things were getting better. I had so many setbacks, but after a while I was able to comprehend what had happened. I had a lot of problems after, but later when I was doing laps with mom she said that I wasn’t coughing as much and wasn’t wheezing as much. That’s when it hit me.”
Six months after the transplant, and a battle with post-transplant lymphoproliferative disorder, she was finally able to return to a normal life – doing some of the things she did before, like hiking, biking and camping.
Watson will read from her book during an author reading at the Miner’s Memorial Library in Springhill on May 14 at 7 p.m.
The official book launch is in Petitcodiac on May while there are additional book signings at Chapter’s in Moncton on May 18 from noon to 2 p.m. and June 4 at the Four Fathers Memorial Library in Amherst from 7 to 8 p.m.
The book is available at Chapter’s but also, locally, at Cole’s Book Store in the Amherst Centre mall.