New life for heart-lung transplant girl

STEPHEN PULLINGER It is a photograph any parents would cherish - their younger daughter the radiant bridesmaid proudly walking down the aisle at her big sister's wedding.

STEPHEN PULLINGER

It is a photograph any parents would cherish - their younger daughter the radiant bridesmaid proudly walking down the aisle at her big sister's wedding.

But for one Norfolk family the picture has even more special meaning because a year before it was taken at St Nicholas Church, Bradwell, near Yarmouth, bridesmaid Natasha Storey was so weak she needed a wheelchair to go anywhere outside and was using a stair lift indoors.

Her sister Samantha, a nurse at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital, put off her wedding to trainee accountant Adam at the time in the hope her sister could still be part of it.

Meanwhile, the EDP was tracking the increasingly desperate plight of the teenager from Sparrow Close, Bradwell, as she waited for a donor for a heart and lung transplant - her only hope because of an incurable heart condition, cardiomyopathy.

Natasha, who had been given only seven months to live in August 2004, could only stay at home with her bags packed, waiting to be rushed to London's Great Ormond Street Hospital when the call came.

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In fact, it was not until the summer of 2005 that she finally underwent the operation, by which time her weight had plummeted to less than five stone and her lungs had been wasted as a by-product of the congenital heart disease.

Her mother Debbie, who has led an impassioned campaign in the EDP for Britain to change the law on organ donation to one of presumed consent, said: “It was only Natasha's determination and positive attitude that kept her going.

“After she had the operation and doctors examined her old lungs under a microscope they were astonished she had been able to breathe at all because they were in such poor condition.”

After a series of setbacks including two further operations to relieve fluid building up on her new heart, Natasha finally began to make good progress at the start of this year.

Even then, the self-confessed fighter still had one more devastating knock-back to contend with only a week before her sister's wedding in July.

Mother Debbie said: “A lump came up on her neck and after biopsies she was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.

“Doctors said the cancer was the result of the drugs Natasha was having to take but reassured us it was quite treatable.”

The first session of her chemotherapy, which she is still undergoing, was delayed a few days until after the wedding

Ever the optimist, Natasha, now 17, said: “I have kept my hair and avoided the worst effects of the chemo.

“Doctors advised me to delay my start at college but I was determined not to. I have always been a fighter.”

Having taken two GCSEs at home in the weeks before her heart and lung transplant, the former Lynn Grove High School pupil is now doing further GCSEs in English and science at Gorleston's East Norfolk Sixth Form College.

Natasha, who hopes to train as a midwife, said: “I felt an outcast for a while but now I am back at college I am seeing a lot of my old friends and making new ones as well.

“One of my biggest joys is now being able to go shopping with my friends on the bus into town.

“Before my mum would have to come too as I was in a wheelchair, and it was too much of an effort for me to try on clothes.”

Natasha, who has started driving lessons, is determined to continue her mother's donor card campaign and said she had already convinced some of her friends and their families to carry them.

Her big ambition is to take part in next summer's British Transplant Games in Edinburgh.

“I would like to do some running event. For most of my life I have not been able to run far without getting out of breath,” she said.