After nearly dying from liver failure Stratford-upon-Avon mum Rebecca Vanni is doing 'Leap for Live' in honour of donor who saved her life
Stratford-upon-Avon mum Rebecca Vanni would not be here were it not for the death of another, and that’s something that she is still dealing with.
Rebecca was a normal, healthy 46-year-old enjoying her job in marketing, when last July, out of the blue, she began to suffer catastrophic liver failure.
During an emotional interview she told the Herald how her world turned upside-down the day after she celebrated her 47th birthday.
“I’d been seeing my doctor for a while about feeling tired all the time, and the fact that my urine had turned a dark colour, like coke, and I had diarrhoea.
For my birthday, on 27th July, I went for a girls’ night out at the Boathouse restaurant in Stratford. I hadn’t drunk much – I’m not a big drinker – but when I woke up in the morning I had turned yellow.”
Amazingly, despite seeking medical help, her condition wasn’t treated seriously until a nurse-practitioner at her GPs encouraged her to go straight to accident and emergency, at which point she was admitted to Warwick Hospital. That was on 3rd August.
After tests were inconclusive, Rebecca was sent home – before a urologist called her a week later to readmit her after looking at her case and thinking “something wasn’t right”.
Rebecca ended up being sent to the Birmingham Queen Elizabeth Hospital for a liver biopsy on 11th August. Shockingly they found that 95 per cent of Rebecca’s liver had died. It is suspected that this was caused by an autoimmune disease.
“With only five per cent of my liver functioning I had begun to get hepatic encephalopathy, when you can’t think properly and basically I went round the twist. At that point I was moved to intensive care,” explained Rebecca.
Meanwhile at home, Rebecca’s partner Kevin and her daughter, Elia, 18, were incredibly worried but were unable to visit because of Covid-19.
“It was so daunting and frightening. I was told that I needed a liver transplant and
that I was on the super urgent list. Bearing in mind that there are 350 people on the list, so I knew that if I was near the top it was bad.”
She continued: “They turned down three livers because I was told they wanted me to have super league type of liver. They really look at what type of disease you have, your body and the liver being offered.”
Eventually, on 21st August, Rebecca was given her new liver. She gets emotional when she thinks of her donor, a 50-year-old man who was brain-stem dead.
“I cry when I think of the people he saved, nine of us who were given his heart, lungs, kidneys, retinas… and I had all of his liver.
“I’ve called my liver Sid, and he is my partner in crime now.”
Wanting to know how grateful she is, Rebecca wrote to her donor’s family.
“It was the hardest letter I’ve had to write. I haven’t heard back, but at Christmas and Mother’s Day I thought about the family who helped me.”
Profoundly, Rebecca added: It’s bittersweet you are thankful you got this gift but you feel quite guilty that someone had to die for you.”
Being so close to dying has changed Rebecca’s outlook.
She explained: “Life tastes sweeter and you realise every moment should be savoured and you should be present, you should embrace the simple things: taking a walk and being mindful or challenging yourself to try new things.”
One of the new things Rebecca is going to try is to do a parachute jump, and is doing one for the Liver Trust as part of their Leap for Liver Skydive fundraising initiative.
“I thought what do I want to do will honour my donor and but also embrace my new life? I’ve been learning horse riding with my daughter which I’ve started to do recently, I want to see a kingfisher – a random thing – and also I wanted to do something that would scare me, hence the Leap for Liver.”
The Liver Trust offer resources and raise awareness about liver disease, and Rebecca says its support has been amazing.
Thinking about the future is something Rebecca is trying to do to stay positive after the trauma of her experience.
“Some days are really good and I feel invincible, other days not so much… The anti-rection drugs that I am on are made from the soil from the Easter Islands, and that’s incredible to think that something that isn’t mine is staying inside of me because of that.”
After a moment’s reflection, Rebecca added: “For me the future is about continuing to do good, being a nice human and feeling grateful.”
Rebecca is aiming to raise £4,000 for her Leap for Liver skydive in July. Donate at britishlivertrust.enthuse.com and search for ‘Rebecca Vanni’