Sophie who underwent life-saving surgery after being rushed to the top of the transplant list for a new liver is looking forward to carving out a career here at College which supported her through her ordeal.
Sophie Thackray was six months into an Art & Design course at Hartlepool College of Further Education when she was struck down by health problems. A scan showed she has a 10cm tumour on the inside of her liver – thankfully a biopsy confirmed it wasn’t cancerous – but her rare condition left medics baffled and as calls were made to specialists around the globe, the tumour continued to grow. With hospital visits and constant checks taking over her life, Sophie had to put her studies on hold to focus on getting better. But she was left fighting for her life two years ago this week after complications set in, and she was placed onto a life support machine in an induced coma with mum Sonia by her bedside while a desperate search was launched to find her a new liver. A match was eventually found from a 74-year-old woman, and after some initial problems in the first few hours after the surgery the transplant has been a success. Now, two years on, Sophie has returned to the College to do a teaching qualification which will enable her to pass on her expertise to the next generation.
Sophie, 25 and from Hartlepool, said: “It is great to be back at the College, and everyone here knows how grateful I am for the support I was given throughout my illness. “After being on life support and getting a transplant, you do tend to look at things differently. Studying was probably the last thing on my mind at the time, but the College were in constant contact and I even had lecturers visiting me at the Freeman Hospital up in Newcastle. My course was placed on hold, and I was able to return last year and finish it. I got a merit, and I’m now on a course which allows me to teach other art & design students. I just felt I needed to give something back to the College, and I’m looking forward to getting started.”
Sophie – who specialises in illustration and graphic design - is now able to lead a normal lifestyle, and has regular checks with specialists to make sure everything is in order. She added: “The doctors tried allsorts to reduce the tumour, but it kept growing. They initially thought it was the size of a 10p piece, then it turned out it was a 10cm growth on the inside of the liver and that eventually grew to 20cm. It was a relief to hear it wasn’t cancer, but my life was put on hold while they tried to work out what to do.
“They eventually took away 75 per cent of my liver through a re-section, but because what was left was still working I wasn’t eligible for a transplant. I was in and out of hospital with infections when a blood disorder caused issue with the regrowth of my liver, but then I picked up an infection and that was when things changed dramatically. It really was life and death at that stage. I don’t recall much about the transplant really, I just knew I was very ill and I’ve been told it got to the stage where things weren’t looking good. I was put to the top of the emergency transplant list, and within seven hours they had found a match from a 74-year-old lady. All I know is her age, and that she was from the North East. I’ve wanted to write to her family through the organ donation people and thank them, to let them know how grateful I am for what I’ve been given. But every time I’ve picked up the pen, I’ve not known what to write. Maybe one day I will find the words. That donation saved my life, because if the wait was any longer it would have been too late. It does feel a bit strange to have a 76-year-old liver when I’m only 25, but I’m just grateful to be here. I’m constantly telling my friends and family about the importance of being on the organ donor register, and once I get started on the teaching side of things I will be getting that message across as often as I can. I can’t say how grateful I am to Mr French, my consultant at the Freeman, but I will do anything I can do to help raise awareness of how vital organ donations are.”
Keith Bradley, Head of School for Art & Design at Hartlepool College of Further Education, said: “We could tell straight away that Sophie was a very talented artist, and it was a shock to all of us at the College when she took ill. We supported her in any way we could, and we were delighted when she came back and finished her course last year. She has worked hard to catch up, and we wish her well as she moves into the teaching side. We’re sure she will be a great asset to the team.”
To sign up for the Organ Donation register and to find out more information, visit www.organdonation.nhs.uk or call 0300 123 2323.