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Dear Mr Recipient: The three most precious words lung transplant patient ever received

Double Lung recipient Campbell Wallace on his 60th birthday with daughter Kaye, wife Caro and son Daniel
Double Lung recipient Campbell Wallace on his 60th birthday with daughter Kaye, wife Caro and son Daniel

The message inside doesn’t address him by name and he doesn’t know who sent it, but it’s one of the 63-year-old grandfather’s most prized possessions.

Campbell received it recently and it means the world to him is as it’s from the family of the person who saved his life.

The dad-of-three, originally from Mauchline in Ayrshire, would be dead by now had he not received a double lung transplant thanks to the card sender’s partner.

Campbell has gone from strength to strength in the three years since but there was something missing from his recovery – a response to the letter he sent to the donor’s family six months after the 12-hour op, thanking them for giving him a second chance at life.

“It’s one of the most precious things I own,” said Campbell.

“I was convinced I wasn’t going to hear anything after all this time, so when I got a call from the transplant co-ordinator that a card had arrived from the donor’s family I went straight to the hospital to pick it up.

“I’m so much more grateful now that I have it. Hearing from the family has made it all more real somehow.

“This person is responsible for me being here, as they agreed to their loved one being a donor.”

Campbell in 2012, before his operation
Campbell in 2012, before his operation

The correspondence between donor and recipient is controlled with all messages going through co-ordinators. Campbell wasn’t allowed to give his name, where or when the op took place or anything about himself when writing to the family.

“It was very difficult,” he admitted. “How do I tell them I’m doing well when I know what they’ve been through is the only reason I’m in this positive position?

“The co-ordinator told me sometimes relatives just want to walk away from it.

“So when I got the card and I opened it up and it said, ‘Dear Mr Recipient’, it meant the world to me and it allowed me to find out a little about my donor.”

Campbell, who runs a business with wife Carol, began to feel unwell in 2010.

He was often out of breath and his doctor said it was Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, put him on inhalers and told him to stop smoking.

After more tests, Campbell was told he also had end-stage emphysema.

He needed an immediate double lung transplant.

“That was in 2012,” continued Campbell. “I was taken off the list the following month as I had lost weight and the specialists weren’t convinced I would cope with the post-op recovery.

“So I went on protein drinks and Bailey’s – there are 900 calories in a triple measure! – and my wife, a former Michelin-starred cook, helped me get my weight back up.

“Carol wondered if she was going to wake up next to a corpse every morning.

“I knew I was dying but the doctors didn’t tell me how long I had left – just that I need the transplant pretty quickly.”

Campbell with his wife Carol
Campbell with his wife Carol

The call came three months later. A donor had been found.

“Then they found a nodule on one of the lungs and they had to call it off.

“I felt I had missed my chance. I’ll never forget that feeling.”

The call came again a couple of months later but emphysema was found in the lungs.

Shortly after it was third time lucky, just in time, as Campbell was going downhill fast.

“It was a long operation and they broke my ribs for access.

“I was actually clinically dead for six hours because they had to disconnect the heart from the left lung while they replaced it.

“It took me three days to wake up after the op but every day I got better and it felt amazing just to be able to breathe.

“Surgeons took a gamble on me because I was so ill but my positive attitude convinced them.

“They say my condition could have been caused by a combination of things – the coal fire I had as a kid, working on a farm as a youth with lots of stoor.

“I used to be a toolmaker and never wore a mask and, of course, the smoking didn’t help.

“Before the transplant my lung capacity was 0.7 litres and now it’s 4.28. I’m probably fitter now than I’ve ever been.”

Campbell with grandsons Callum (left) and Arran (right)
Campbell with grandsons Callum (left) and Arran (right)

Campbell wrote a book, Second Chance, which he plans to self-publish this month.

“I didn’t realise how much effect it had on my family, but now they have their hubby, dad and papa back.

“Life changes completely when you’re that close to dying and you live everyday like it’s the last.

“Never a day goes by when I don’t have something to remind me to make the most of my time.

“I’d be letting the donor down if I didn’t live my life to the fullest.”

For more on being a donor, go to organdonationscotland.org or organdonation.nhs.uk


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