Organ donation: “I received the gift of laughter”

organ donation heart shaped balloon
(Image credit: Getty)

Organ donation saves and transforms the lives of others. Two years ago, Deborah Battams, 41, had a life-saving double lung transplant. Here, she shares her incredible story as a reminder of why it’s so very important to talk to loved ones about organ donation.

Organ donation Deborah in hospital

“I was born with cystic fibrosis, and within 24 hours of being born I needed my first life-saving operation. My mum was told to take me home and enjoy me because I probably wouldn’t make it into childhood. Because of this I’ve always had a very real sense of gratitude to be alive. And growing up with a chronic, progressive illness has meant I’ve always known how precious life is. 

“I always had the understanding that at some point my lungs would fail and I’d be in a position where I’d need a transplant. My attitude was to live every single day as if it was my last and do the best I can. I planned for the worst and hoped for the best.

“Unfortunately having lung infection after lung infection over the years caused significant damage to my lungs. When I developed double pneumonia in 2015, it was unlikely that I’d survive and my health rapidly declined. 

Organ donation saved my life

“I accepted a place on the double lung transplant list but eventually I was so unwell that I was transferred to intensive care and elevated to the urgent transplant list. I had four close calls but the organs were unfortunately not suitable so the operations couldn’t go ahead. Then, the final call came that I’d be having my double lung transplant – days later would’ve been too late. I remember leading up to it thinking if I could just get through the next minutes and hours I could live.

“My first husband had cystic fibrosis too but I sadly lost him to cancer. These tragic life circumstances meant I’d built up a great deal of resilience and I’d strengthened my ability to cope and adapt. 

“Luckily I was very fortunate and remarried and so I have an amazing husband, a supportive mum and I'm incredibly close to my sister. The most challenging part of being really unwell was watching my loved ones see me going through it – that drove me to survive. My sister took six months off work to come and care for me and she did it with a smile on her face and full of love and compassion.

organ donation Deborah and husband

An incredible gift

“Organ donation has given me a healthy set of lungs that are free from cystic fibrosis and it’s still very difficult to express how much my life has been transformed by having lungs that function as they should. It has completely changed my view on what I consider to be normal health and is beyond what I could ever have hoped for. 

“Pre-transplant I would get an infection and lung damage but now if I get a cold or I am less well, I am doing that from the starting point of having healthy lungs and that is a huge difference. 

“My incredible, generous donor was a mother, a daughter, a sister and a partner and when I celebrate my life, my donor’s loving family are also in my heart. Their selfless decision to support her being a donor gave me a second chance of life. There are no words to fully say thank you for that, but I always think of my donor and in some way I’m carrying on her life too in addition to living my own. 

“I wrote to my donor family after my transplant and they replied asking me to use my lungs to laugh as much as I can. I wasn’t able to do this when I was very poorly – I was too scared to laugh and I missed it terribly. Now I can laugh every single day. I’m happy that this may bring my donor family some comfort.”

Whatever your organ donation decision, the best thing you can do is register your decision on the NHS Organ Donor Register and talk to your friends and family – to give them the certainty they need to support it. Amazingly, 9 out of 10 families in the UK support organ donation going ahead when they know it’s what their loved one would have wanted. 

In this video, families talk about how they had the conversation about organ donation - and why it’s so important to talk about your decision

Ali Horsfall
Senior Writer

Senior writer Ali Horsfall has almost 15 years of experience as a journalist and has written for national print titles and women’s lifestyle brands including Woman & Home, Woman, Woman's Own, BBC magazines, Mothercare, Grazia and The Independent.