Emily’s loving life after her transplant

Emily Potter
Emily Potter

LETTER OF THE DAY: I could have easily dodged the train fare

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Emily Potter happily brushes off the ordeal of the past few years as if it was nothing out of the ordinary.

For her, being a normal teenager is far more important than dwelling on the past or what might have been.

Emily Potter (14) from Portchester with her dad Bob Potter who donated one of his kidneys to her. She is off to South Africa next year to compete in the World Transplant Games.'Picture: Ian Hargreaves  (123599-3)

Emily Potter (14) from Portchester with her dad Bob Potter who donated one of his kidneys to her. She is off to South Africa next year to compete in the World Transplant Games.'Picture: Ian Hargreaves (123599-3)

It’s not that she doesn’t remember what’s happened. Heart surgery, having both kidneys removed, spending months on dialysis and receiving a life-saving transplant aren’t the kind of experiences you forget in a hurry.

But life has moved on – and that in itself says more about the incredible difference organ donation can make than anything else.

The 14-year-old still gets hospital checks every three months and will almost certainly need a second transplant at some point in the future.

Yet she’s finally able to do the sports she loves and that’s allowed her to achieve some pretty extraordinary things.

In fact, ever since dad Bob donated his left kidney, Emily has flourished.

Taking part in three successive UK Transplant Games has given her the chance to win medals for badminton and swimming.

The Portchester Community School pupil won two golds at the most recent games in August.

And now she’s been picked to represent Team GB at the prestigious World Transplant Games in South Africa.

‘To think that I’ve been selected out of 500 kids is a pretty big achievement,’ says Emily.

‘It makes me proud.’

Mum Pauline adds: ‘For us, it’s finally a chance to see something good come out of all this.

‘As much as she’s been through and I wish it had never happened, Emily would never have experienced the things she has if it hadn’t happened.’

The Potters had been getting on with family life when Emily’s health problems hit them like a bolt out of the blue.

After repeatedly vomiting, Emily was admitted to hospital on Valentine’s Day 2007.

Four weeks of tests were to follow before the youngster was finally diagnosed with dense deposit disease.

The rare disease caused both her kidneys to pack up and Emily – just nine at the time – had to go on dialysis.

Emily’s problems were to take another turn for the worse when nine months later doctors found she was also suffering from a leaky valve in her heart.

It took two rounds of heart surgery before Emily could finally get the kidney transplant she needed in March 2009.

‘It was like being hit by a freight train,’ remembers Pauline, 41.

‘It was one thing after another.

‘Sometimes it’s hard to believe what we went through. Your coping mechanisms go into over-drive, you just have to get through it.

‘No-one said “She’s going to be in hospital for nine months”. If someone had said that I probably would have gone insane but you just go with it.

‘Your demons come afterwards. That’s when you sit down and think about what you’ve gone through.

‘Emily never felt sorry for herself. She was always positive and that made us that way too. She gave us strength.’

The operation was a success and Emily was invited to represent Evelina Children’s Hospital in London at the annual transplant games in 2010.

The event gives patients of all ages the chance to prove there is life after a transplant and for Emily it’s been a fun way to catch up with friends.

‘I enjoy the whole experience,’ says Emily, who lives with her parents and sister Katie, 12, in Portchester.

‘In 2010 I picked five events – three swimming events, badminton and two relays – which is what I’ve done every single year since. In that first year I got three bronze medals and a silver.

‘We don’t really talk about transplants, it’s nothing to do with that. We all get on with having a life.

‘There’s always someone worse off and I think I’m probably one of the lucky ones.

‘I look forward to seeing everyone because there’s not the chance during the rest of the year because we go to clinic on different days.’

Only a handful of youngsters are picked to represent Team GB at the World Transplant Games so it’s a big honour to have been asked.

Emily hoped she’d get her chance to take part after achieving those two gold medals at this year’s UK Transplant Games.

When friends received letters to say they’d made it and she didn’t, Emily feared she hadn’t been selected.

So she was delighted when an invitation dropped through the door.

Individuals aren’t just picked because they’ve shown sporting prowess –the role they’ve played in cheering on others and being a good team-mate is also taken into consideration.

Emily can’t wait to get out there and compete and says she doesn’t think about what will happen if she needs another transplant in the future.

‘It’s such a rare condition,’ adds Pauline.

‘It takes 10 years to reach the end stage so there’s no way of knowing if or when it will rear its ugly head again.

‘But you’ve got to take the good with the bad and it has brought us closer.’

For Pauline and Bob, 42, the annual games has also given them a much-needed chance to meet up with other parents who’ve been through a similar experience.

And of course it’s also an emotional experience to see how far their little girl has come.

‘At first she was far too weak to even walk let alone do something sporty,’ explains Pauline.

‘When she had her transplant that changed. Emily just wanted to start living life.

‘She had spent so many years in a wheelchair and a hospital bed.

‘There were times when I thought she wasn’t going to make the morning.

‘To come from that to where we are now really does make me proud.’

Transplant Games

Emily Potter will fly out to Durban in South Africa in July to take her place at the World Transplant Games.

Before she gets there, the family needs to raise around £7,500 to fund the trip.

The teenager plans to raise funds herself via a sponsored bike ride in January.

And mum Pauline is planning to put her fears to one side to do a skydive.

But the family are hoping others will have some inspirational ideas for fundraising and are asking people to e-mail them with their ideas.

Anyone who wants to support Emily can do so by going to justgiving.com/emily-potter2 or by e-mailing dddpotter@hotmail.co.uk