Former liver transplant patient turns Santa

15 December 2022

A woman who spent last Christmas Day alone in hospital recovering from a liver transplant will be celebrating the festive season very differently this year.

Lauren MacDonald, 40, from Chiswick, said she will be dancing the night away on a festive break to Ireland now she is back in sound health following her complex surgery last year.

And in an emotional reunion, this week Lauren returned to the Royal Free Hospital, where she received her transplant, bringing gifts to thank the staff (pictured) who cared for her during her month-long stay as an in-patient.

She said: “The staff were all so amazing and helped reassure me every step of the way. It was wonderful to see them again and to thank them in person for all they did for me.

“Last year I was really sick – I lost a lot of blood and spent a week in ICU. So I’m really pleased to have made a recovery and this year I will be celebrating by spending Christmas in Ireland.

One of the things I love to do is Irish dancing so I’m hoping to find a ceilidh and dance the night away!”

Lauren, who is originally from Nova Scotia, Canada, was diagnosed with polycystic liver disease just a few months after she moved to London in 2013. 

She said: “I moved because I wanted to have a big city adventure but a few months after I arrived I was diagnosed with this condition - it was a bit of a shock.”

At first Lauren, who works in communications for a bank, wasn’t that unwell However, as the years passed she gradually felt the crippling effects of the disease, a rare genetic disorder which leads to the replacement of normal liver tissue with fluid-filled cysts.

Lauren was referred to the Royal Free Hospital at the end of 2019, where doctors placed her on the transplant list.  

She said: “In a way lockdown was a relief for me as at that point, I couldn’t move much anyway. My liver was so enlarged it was pressing up against my heart and kidneys, taking over my whole abdomen which made me look like I was eight months pregnant. I had so little energy I was suffering from muscle wastage. It was quite scary.”

Lauren pictured before the transplant with a bulging stomach due to her condition

Among the staff helping Lauren during her time at the Royal Free Hospital was liver transplant co-ordinator Michael McHugh.

Lauren said: “Michael communicated with me what I needed to know. It could have been terrifying but he totally reassured me.

“I got the call at 2am in the morning and went to theatre later that day. I was feeling a bit nervous but the doctors came and saw me and they were absolutely brilliant at calming me. I felt like I had the dream team!”

Lauren’s surgery took 12 hours and was more challenging than expected. As well as significant blood loss, Lauren also suffered acute kidney injury which meant she needed dialysis and further surgery the following day.

Lauren explains: “While I was in ICU I suffered from delirium and hallucinations. Luckily I got to talk all this through with the wonderful psychologists.”

Finally, almost a month after being admitted, Lauren was ready to be discharged. Although she didn’t make it home in time for Christmas Day she admits she enjoyed the day nonetheless.

She said: “There was a tree on the ward and a really good atmosphere. I had technology at my fingertips so I could keep in touch with my family but it was really heartwarming to see how the nurses made sure that patients who weren’t so tech savvy were supported to speak to their families via tablets. The porters who took me to all my scans, dialysis and ultrasounds were so friendly. I saw quite a bit of them and their good natured banter really helped keep my spirits up, especially when I wasn’t able to have anyone visiting due to the restrictions.”

Lauren says the liver team are really pleased with her recovery and, and a year on from her transplant, she is feels like she has got her life back.

She added: “I finally feel like I can live again. While I was on the waiting list for a transplant I couldn’t be more than two hours away from the hospital but now I can travel, see friends and family and do all the things I enjoy. Just recently I wrote a letter to my donor’s family to express my gratitude. As you can imagine it was incredibly emotional. I know what a difficult decision that must have been.”

Michael McHugh, Lauren’s liver transplant co-ordinator, said: “Nursing is all about supporting people through change in their lives and it is very special when you are part of someone’s journey from beginning, middle and end. Lauren’s story shows just how resilient our patients are as not everyone’s journey is straightforward, but it is reassuring to see how people on the whole remember the positives and that’s testament to how well our staff are doing. Despite all the challenges we face it shows how much people are really trying their best.

“Lauren’s story also demonstrates just how much a liver transplant has the power to change lives. Our team facilitate the transplant and make sure everything goes to plan but the people who have really changed Lauren’s life are the donor family.”