Double-lung transplant survivor from Chorley celebrates milestone 10 year anniversary

It is still one of the most memorable and emotional moments of my journalism career.

Ten years ago today I was at home, about to go to bed, when I got a call that would change one family's life forever.

It was a call to say that a transplant donor had been found for Natalie Kerr and that I should get myself down to Wythenshawe Hospital as soon as possible.

The memory of that call still gives me goosebumps.

Natalie was a young mum whose story Granada Reports had been following for several years.

Natalie was diagnosed with pulmonary hypertension after going into labour with her daughter Isabelle

She'd been diagnosed in 2008, whilst in labour with her daughter Isabelle, with a rare condition called severe pulmonary hypertension.

A rare progressive disease that was narrowing the blood vessels in her lungs causing an unbearable strain on her heart.

Back then she was told she had just three years to live.

But determined to fight, she underwent pioneering stem cell treatment in America after well-wishers helped raise £40,000.

But sadly it wasn't the cure they hoped it would be and she was put on the waiting list for a double lung transplant.

She told me: "I was so poorly. That day I was just looking at my phone and wishing it to ring. I was just saying, please ring, please ring, please ring.

"I was so desperate. I knew, I knew I only had days left and I remember it like it was yesterday how desperate I was just to be here.

"So when I got the call [to say a transplant match had been found], I was really excited to hopefully get better."

Natalie Kerr back in 2012 just before she was wheeled down to surgery for her double lung transplant Credit: ITV

When I arrived at Wythenshawe Hospital that night and was shown up to the ward, Natalie was there waiting to find out if the potential donor was indeed a match.

I was with her and her parents, for several hours as we waited for confirmation that the surgery could go ahead.

And after several tests, Natalie got the news we'd all been hoping for, the lungs were a good match and the transplant operation would go ahead that night.

ITV was there as Natalie Kerr was wheeled in to theatre for her double lung transplant Credit: ITV

One of my enduring memories was just how composed Natalie was as she sat on her hospital bed and answered my questions.

At times it felt like I was intruding on the most personal and intimate of moments.

But Natalie and her family had specifically asked me to be there, to document Natalie's story.

Natalie Kerr speaking to Mel Barham in 2012 just moments before going into surgery for a double lung transplant Credit: ITV

In the most difficult of times, they were still thinking of the bigger picture, and how this could help others also waiting for a transplant.

This woman, with two young children aged just four and nine, was about to undergo incredibly complicated surgery with no guarantee she would come out of the operation alive.

And here she was sharing those potentially precious last moments with me.

Incredibly, as she sat there talking about how she was feeling, she told me that if she didn't make it through the operation, at least it might help someone else:

"Even if I don't come through at the end, if they just see all this, it might make them think, sign up and save someone else's life."

Natalie gets a kiss from her mum before she's taken into surgery back in 2012 Credit: ITV

At the heart of all this, Natalie's selflessness meant she was already thinking of others, it would be a precursor for what she would go on to achieve over the next decade.

But we'll get to that later.

Natalie's parents waiting for news at the hospital while her transplant operation was ongoing Credit: ITV

Over the next few hours, I waited with Natalie's family in a small family room in a quiet part of the hospital.

The clock ticked, and we waited and waited.

Until finally after about eight hours, Natalie came out of surgery and was taken to intensive care.

Natalie Kerr just days after her transplant in 2012 with her daughter and son Credit: Natalie Kerr

She'd survived the surgery, but what we didn't know then, was whether she would survive the next few days and weeks.

Granada Reports closely followed her progress, with updates on her condition over the following few weeks and months.

I stayed in touch with Natalie as her new lungs grew stronger and stronger.

Granada Reports speaks to Natalie a month after her transplant Credit: ITV

And as her condition improved dramatically, Natalie's focus turned towards campaigning for more awareness of transplantation.

She worked tirelessly to encourage more people to sign up to the donor register, and joined calls to change to an opt-out system, which is now in place.

Doctors were not sure what Natalie's prognosis would be.

Survival figures are improving every year but on average 50% of those who undergo transplantations get to five years, just 25% reach 10 years.

We filmed Natalie in 2017 as she celebrated five years post-op - a milestone she never dreamt she would meet.

But five years on from that date, here we are celebrating 10 amazing years that she's been able to enjoy - all made possible thanks to the person she calls her angel.

She says: "I'm so grateful to the lady who saved my life that night, and I can't imagine what her family went through at the most horrific time in their life, to make that decision to donate her organs.

"Little did they know there was little old me hanging on. What they've done is absolutely amazing."

Natalie back in 2012 with her daughter Isabelle, just after her transplant Credit: ITV

All Natalie wanted was to live long enough to see her two young children grow up.

At the time, Isabelle was just four years old, Brandon was nine.

Now Isabelle is in secondary school and Brandon at college.

Natalie adds: "There's no words to describe how happy I am to still be here. It feels like a dream really.

"We've just made so many happy memories. And literally, I've had like the best ten years.

"It's been an incredible journey, probably one that I wouldn't have had if I hadn't of had my illness and my transplant.

"And I've probably lived more in the last ten years than probably some people live in a lifetime just because I know how precious life is."

"I'm living proof that it works. What an amazing thing to do when you're gone if you can donate your organs to keep others living on.

"And I hope that I'm doing my donor proud and I hope she's looking down and she's smiling."

Natalie tells Mel Barham how "happy" she feels to still be here 10 years on from her transplant Credit: ITV

On Saturday, Natalie will celebrate 10 years with her lungs at a special charity gala night, raising money for the New Start Charity at Wythenshaw hospital and The Pulmonary Hypertension Association.

It will be a celebration for an inspirational lady who I'm so proud to now call a friend.

If you want to find out more information about organ donation, there's more information from NHS Blood and Transplant here.