Teacher told by pupil her eyes were “a funny colour” was days away from death

Transplant patient Emma Gregson pictured at the launch of "Preston North Beginning"
Transplant patient Emma Gregson pictured at the launch of "Preston North Beginning"
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Lancashire people are urged to “Turn an End into a Beginning” by talking about organ donation.

AASMA DAY talks to teacher Emma Gregson who was days away from death after suddenly turning yellow.

“MISS - your eyes are a funny colour!”

Emma Gregson, a primary school teacher who was days away from death before undergoing a lifesaviing liver transplant.
A photo of Emma the day after her transplant.

Emma Gregson, a primary school teacher who was days away from death before undergoing a lifesaviing liver transplant. A photo of Emma the day after her transplant.

As a primary school teacher, Emma Gregson was used to hearing pupils come out with bizarre comments so at first she didn’t take the nine-year-old boy’s comments too seriously.

But later on, she looked in the mirror and realised he was right.

Emma, now 36, who lives in Chorley and is a primary school teacher in Adlington, explains: “I noticed the whites of my eyes had gone yellow and my face had gone yellow too.

“I had always been fine and healthy before then so I was not unduly worried.

Emma Gregson, a primary school teacher who was days away from death before undergoing a lifesaviing liver transplant
Emma eating an ice lolly just before her transplant.
She is eating an ice lolly because one of her symptoms was getting very hot.

Emma Gregson, a primary school teacher who was days away from death before undergoing a lifesaviing liver transplant Emma eating an ice lolly just before her transplant. She is eating an ice lolly because one of her symptoms was getting very hot.

“This was in the middle of September 2012 and I had also been feeling quite tired.

“However, I had just started my new job so I put the tiredness down to this.”

Emma went to see her GP who thought there may be a problem with Emma’s gall bladder as this can lead to signs of jaundice.

She told Emma she would refer her to hospital for investigations.

Emma Gregson, a primary school teacher who was days away from death before undergoing a lifesaviing liver transplant
Emma with her dog Tiger.

Emma Gregson, a primary school teacher who was days away from death before undergoing a lifesaviing liver transplant Emma with her dog Tiger.

But Emma’s condition deteriorated rapidly and she turned a lot more yellow, felt extremely 
lethargic and had a pain in her stomach and itchy legs.

Emma recalls: “Being healthy otherwise, I still wasn’t too concerned.

“I thought it was just a little blip and that even if there was a problem with my gall bladder, they’d just whip it out and get it sorted.”

Emma returned to her GP who sent her straight to hospital. At this stage, doctors still suspected a problem with Emma’s gall bladder and carried out a scan.

Emma Gregson, a primary school teacher who was days away from death before undergoing a lifesaviing liver transplant.
Emma with her dog Tiger

Emma Gregson, a primary school teacher who was days away from death before undergoing a lifesaviing liver transplant. Emma with her dog Tiger

This revealed Emma’s liver was very shrunken and hard and wasn’t working properly.

Medics tried to kickstart Emma’s liver into working, but their attempts proved futile.

Emma was transferred to St James Hospital in Leeds which a specialist liver transplant centre and she was in there for three weeks.

Specialists tried her on different medications and monitored her.

Despite their efforts, Emma carried on deteriorating and it reached the point where she was so poorly and her liver function was so low that doctors gave her just seven days to live without a liver transplant.

Before her surgery, Emma was in a wheelchair as one of the functions of the liver is helping to control the clotting of blood.

As Emma’s liver function was virtually non existent, if she had fallen, she would have suffered massive internal bleeding.

Emma remembers: “It was very frightening to be told you only have seven days to live.

“It is a strange situation to be in as everything is out of your control and you can’t do anything.

“All I could do is put my trust into the medical staff and try and be cheerful and positive about it all.

“I did cry when they told me I only had seven days to live without a transplant - but that was the only time I cried.”

Emma was prepared for two liver transplants but the surgery did not go ahead when it transpired the quality of the donor livers was not good enough.

When doctors told Emma they had another liver for her, she tried not to get her hopes up, but medics sounded very hopeful about the quality of this liver.

It was third time lucky for Emma as this time the liver transplant went ahead and the operation took about six hours.

Emma was in intensive care at first and was then moved to a ward.

Determined to recover as quickly as possible and get home, Emma managed to get out of bed and walk within a day of the surgery.

She then set herself goals of having all the tubes removed as quickly as possible and she managed to return home just nine days after the transplant.

Doctors think Emma’s liver was damaged by auto immune hepatitis. It is not known what causes this to suddenly happen.

After her transplant, Emma recovered well and managed to return to her work as a teacher on a part-time basis six months later.

She then went back to full-time work the following September.

Emma says: “The school, staff and pupils were very good and supportive.

“I talked about what happened to me and the transplant quite openly at school and explained it to people.

“It was a bit of a shock for the pupils but they have been really good and are always very careful with germs and use hand gel as they know my immune system is lowered because of the anti-rejection medication I am on.

“The school has also raised money for St James Hospital as recognition for my transplant and treatment.”

Apart from being on a low dose of anti-rejection medication, Emma says she is enjoying life to the full and says she hasn’t let her transplant stop her in any way.

Emma says: “There are certain things I have to be careful of such as not eating things such as prawns, shellfish and soft cheese because of the risk of listeria and my low immune system and avoiding germs.

“But apart from that, I just get on with and enjoy life and sometimes I almost forget it happened to me.”

All Emma knows about her donated liver is that it came from a young man who had an accident. Emma has written to his family to express how thankful she is for the gift of life.

Emma says: “It is hard to put yourself in the shoes of the family.

“But if this awful thing has happened, it is nice to see something positive come out of it.

“Organ donation has given me life. It is an amazing gift.

“I think the theme of this year’s Organ Donation Week to ‘Turn an End into a Beginning’ is a great idea as it will get people talking about organ donation.

“I was so very near the end and was given a new beginning with the liver transplant.”

• Every day across the UK, around three who could have benefited from a transplant die because there aren’t enough organ donors.

There are currently around 6,500 people in the UK on the waiting list for a transplant.

Yet of the approximately half a million people who die each year across the UK, only about one per cent die in circumstances where their organs can be donated.

With such small numbers of people dying in the right circumstances to become an organ donor and so many adults and children in need of transplant, it is vital no opportunity for someone to become a donor is missed.

Many people believe it is just a case of signing the NHS Organ Donor Register.

However, if you die in circumstances where you could become an organ donor, your family would be approached by specialist nurses and they would be asked to support your decision to be an organ donor.

NHS Blood and Transplant figures show that only 47 per cent of families agree to organ donation if they are unaware of their loved one’s decision to be a donor.

Yet almost 90 per cent of families give their consent when the decision to be an organ donor is known.

During Organ Donation Week, hospitals, health teams, charities and supporters and their families will be highlighting the need for people to talk about organ donation and share their decision with their family.

Start a conversation today and help to turn an end into a beginning.

• Visit www.organdonation.nhs.uk or call 0300 123 23 23. Share your decision with your family using hashtag #YesIDonate

To register as an organ donor through the Lancashire Evening Post’s campaign, visit: http://bit.ly/givethegiftoflife