Lorraine Cummings, aged just 34, from Newtownabbey, has lived through more health problems than any of us would be unfortunate enough to suffer from in our lifetimes.
But this heart transplant recipient is now leading an active and healthy life, and looking forward to taking part in the forthcoming Westfield Health British Transplant Games in Belfast this August.
Born with a heart defect, Lorraine underwent major heart surgery at just one-week-old. Her family were distraught at their baby girl being put through so much at such a young age, but thankfully she pulled through and while she wasn't the healthiest little girl, she was happy.
Still, at three-years-old, she faced more surgery and then, aged six, she had yet more.
Unsurprisingly, Lorraine admits her childhood was limited. “I didn't have a childhood like other children in my school or family.
“Understandably my parents were very protective of me and I couldn't do as much in terms of physical activity as the other children could, my heart just wouldn't let me.
“I have very fond memories of my childhood, but I often wonder what it must have been like to have been a healthy child.”
In 2003, Lorraine's doctors fitted a pacemaker to help monitor and control her heartbeat, but it wasn't enough and Lorraine, then 30, went into cardiac arrest while visiting her mum at work.
Her heart had gone into an irregular rhythm and stopped without warning. It took 25 minutes before her heart started to beat again. Lorraine was then fitted with an internal cardiac defibrillator which would shock her heart if it happened again.
Two years ago, however, Lorraine developed endocarditis, an inflammation of the inner layer of the heart, which can happen to anyone who suffers with a heart condition. She also contracted septacemia and ended up spending seven weeks — including Christmas — in hospital.
In early 2010 Lorraine's heart failed and she was immediately airlifted to The Freeman Hospital in Newcastle where doctors assessed her for suitability for a heart transplant.
They also broke the news to Lorraine and her family that this was really her only hope.
“Without hesitation I signed on the dotted line, praying that a heart would come for me soon,” she recalls.
“I had accepted how ill I was and was under no illusion that this was my last chance. The doctors and transplant co-ordinators at The Freeman Hospital were amazing and made me feel safe which was incredible at a time when I was so scared.
“I am so thankful to them every day. During the time I waited for my transplant Freeman's became like home for me
and my family — even now when I go back there for check ups I feel like I am coming home — and mum feels the same!”
Lorraine waited for six weeks for her new heart until doctors found her a match on July 7, 2010.
“Knowing that someone died that day and gave me the chance to live is a truly humbling feeling. I don't know anything about my donor, other than I got the most amazing gift from someone I had never known — the gift of life.
“I thank them and their family for giving me this chance and I vowed that I would live my life to the full in their honour.”
Having been through such a lot, Lorraine was delighted, if a little apprehensive, to be offered a top to toe makeover by local businesses Medi-Cosmetic in Jordanstown and Rogue Hair in Belfast. I've never been a real girly girl, but in the spirit of living life to the full I thought why not?’'
Lorraine's first treatment was a nourishing body wrap, which started off with her being exfoliated, then drenched in milk honey to nourish, soften and soothe the skin.
Medi Cosmetic then wrapped her up in foil and blankets to allow the milk honey to do its job and treated her to a relaxing soothing facial, which rejuvenated her already young looking skin and brightened her complexion. Lorraine was then treated to a manicure and pedicure, an eyebrow wax and finished off with the application of Jane Iredale Make-up, a mineral make-up which uses only natural ingredients as she has very sensitive skin. Lorraine's Hair was created by Hazel at Rogue Hair.
“Lorraine has quite thick coarse hair and the colour was a little draining, so we added two types of blonde highlights scattered throughout the hair and an all-over colour of light chestnut brown. I balanced out the length and cut into the hair to texturise it to give her more of a style, but not losing the length in her bobbed hair.”
And she is delighted with her new look. “I can't thank Medi Cosmetic and Rogue Hair enough for making me feel so pampered and special. I had a ball and will definitely be keeping up with the new beauty regime. I had no idea I would enjoy this so much, it’s made me feel really confident and happy with myself — and is just in time for my brother's wedding at which I will be bridesmaid.”
Lorraine will be taking part in the Westfield Health British Transplant Games in Belfast, where she will be competing in the badminton event. I was never a very sporty person, for obvious reasons, but with my new heart I want to get involved with the games as they come to Belfast.”
The Westfield Health British Transplant Games is the flagship event of Transplant Sport UK and exists to encourage those who have received a transplant to lead active and healthy lives and also to showcase the benefits of organ donation and encourage people to sign on to to the NHS Organ Donor Register. Eight hundred transplant athletes and around 1,000 supporters will come to Belfast for the four-day event and take part in 18 different sporting activities.
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