Life after a liver transplant: skin cancer, a wedding and a baby

After months of stable blood tests, Emma was told she could start trying for a baby

Emma Thomas, who had a liver transplant, with her daughter Hannah in Kilmacow, Co Kilkenny. Photograph: Dylan Vaughan

Emma Thomas, who had a liver transplant, with her daughter Hannah in Kilmacow, Co Kilkenny. Photograph: Dylan Vaughan

 

Emma Thomas, from Kilmacow in Co Kilkenny, first realised she had liver problems when a persistent kidney infection wouldn’t clear up at the age of 19.

“I finally went to hospital in Waterford and they realised I was jaundiced too. I was transferred to the Mater hospital in Dublin and was soon diagnosed with autoimmune hepatitis.

“Everything was attacking my liver and treating it as a foreign object.”

Immunosuppressive medication was used to try to stop this process, but Emma was in and out of hospital, and found herself much sicker than usual. “It wasn’t that I got a cold, I would get full-blown flu. My immune system was compromised, I would get everything much worse than everyone else.”

In addition, Emma suffered with oesophageal varices, where new veins formed in her oesophagus, causing bleeding in the stomach, a common problem in those with liver disease.

After 12 months, Emma was placed on the transplant list, and within four months she received a call to say they had found a suitable liver. “The recovery was tough, but the transplant changed my life. Everything went from being bad to good. I wasn’t sick the whole time anymore.”

There were some minor restrictions – Emma couldn’t take aspirin or ibuprofen for pain relief, and has to take just one paracetamol, as opposed to the normal dose of two, for example. She understandably had to be extremely careful to avoid any risk of infection. She also developed skin cancer, a benign basal cell carcinoma but says it was easily removed.

During all this, Emma got engaged and married in December, 2013. “Peter had seen me in all states by then, so I knew he wasn’t going anywhere,” she says.

Emma immediately began asking the transplant team if she could start trying to conceive, but she was advised to wait while they gradually adjusted her medication – upping her steroid dose and reducing the level of immunosuppression she was on. Finally, after several months of stable blood tests, in March 2015 she was told she could go ahead. Emma was pregnant by June.

“We had even begun to go down the adoption route, because I didn’t know if I would be able to get pregnant at all. It was actually a real shock when I found out,” she says.

Emma’s pregnancy proceeded without any real complications, although she was subject to additional monitoring in both University Hospital Waterford and Holles Street. “I felt great throughout the pregnancy and had expected something to go wrong or to be in hospital most of the time, but it wasn’t like that.”

Baby Hannah arrived by Caesarean section at 38 weeks in March of this year. “To us, she was a miracle baby. She is perfect.”

Emma’s medication is now being adjusted again, but she says she enjoys a good quality of life and is enjoying life as a mother.

“I just worry about Hannah now and not myself. I wonder what I did before she came along,” she says.

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