Devon woman who was 'skeletal' with 'raw skin' due to liver condition has life saved by organ donor

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A Devon woman whose family feared she would not live to see the new year is encouraging people to become donors and tell their loved-ones about their decision.

Lisa Woodcock, from Exmouth, was put on the transplant list in June last year due to an autoimmune condition affecting her liver.

She is now recovering from a successful transplant and is feeling well, but is encouraging others to donate their organs to help others in similar situations.

The law on organ donation in England changed in May last year, meaning adults are automatically organ donors unless they opt out.

But many people are unaware medics still seek permission from family members before harvesting someone's organs and people are being urged to speak up about their decision to donate.

Lisa says she is "forever grateful" to her donor and their family - but initially felt guilt around her transplant.

Lisa's symptoms first started in 2018 when she experienced itching. Her mum, who also has a liver condition, prompted her to visit her GP and in March last year she was diagnosed with Primary Biliary Cholangitis - the same condition as her mum.

While Lisa's mum has lived a normal life with the condition for 25 years thanks to medication, Lisa has a more aggressive variant which did not respond to treatment.

Her health declined quickly, leaving her itching all over until her skin bled and losing wright.

Lisa says being on the waiting list for a transplant was difficult.

Lisa and her husband Justin are encouraging families to discuss organ donation. Credit: Family photo

"It was hard to get my head around and I felt like my life and my family's lives were on hold.

"You feel you are waiting for someone to die, and although I understand this is sadly a fact of life, that doesn’t make it any easier. Hopefully donor families can take some comfort from helping other people to live."

In October, three days after her sister’s wedding, Lisa received a call to say a suitable match for a transplant had been found.

Just two weeks later, after a successful surgery, she was discharged from hospital where she continues to make a speedy recovery.

She said: “Helping my sister plan her wedding got me through my time on the list, it kept me distracted.

"Over that time I didn’t realise how ill I was. I was skeletal by this point, my eyes were yellow, my skin raw and I was surviving on about two hours sleep a night."

She said when she got the call she still thought the operation might not go ahead - something which is normal for transplant surgeries.

"I couldn’t believe it when the surgeon walked in with the paperwork ready to go," she said.

"I’ve been very lucky. When I got my call my first thoughts were for my donor, their family and my fellow liver buddies still waiting, I felt guilty. Thanks to my amazing care team, my transplant went very well and so far I have had a textbook recovery.

"I feel amazing, I am so grateful and so happy. I feel well. I also feel guilty for those still waiting for their gift of life. I feel guilty that my donor is no longer here, I feel guilty for my donor’s family, what a horrible time they must be going through.

"I am still processing everything but every day I am stronger."

Lisa received the call she had been waiting for three days after her sister’s wedding. Credit: Lisa Woodcock

Lisa says she is "forever grateful" to her donor and their family.

“I think my donor is phenomenal, it is amazing that they and their family supported organ donation," she said.

"Something tragic happened and they have saved other people, strangers. I can’t imagine being in their shoes, it is so selfless of them, it is the greatest gift and they are my heroes. My husband Justin and I are forever grateful, we think of them and thank them every day."

According to NHS Blood and Transplant, only 42% of the UK population have registered their decision about donation on the NHS Organ Donor Register and just 37% say that they have shared their organ donation decision with their family.

Lisa says that when it comes to organ donation, people should consider what they would do if they were unwell

"Would they accept an organ for themselves or someone they love?," she said. "If the answer is yes, they should think about giving too.

"I was just ploughing on, you get used to ‘being ill’, used to the symptoms, being in and out of hospital, waiting, but it must have been so tough for my family. I genuinely feel they have been through a tougher time than I have.

"At the same time I know another family has had someone missing, a candle was lit for them and they have been in the forefront of my mind leading up to and over Christmas, and will be for all my days to come. Thanks to them from the bottom of my heart."