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Cystic fibrosis patient tells how ‘miracle’ drug turned her life around

Gillian Docherty, 36, with her husband Andy, 35, and their son Frederick (Handout from Queen Elizabeth University Hospital/PA)
Gillian Docherty, 36, with her husband Andy, 35, and their son Frederick (Handout from Queen Elizabeth University Hospital/PA)

A cystic fibrosis (CF) patient who believed she was living on borrowed time has spoken about how she went from planning her end of life to having a child with her husband thanks to a “miracle drug”.

Gillian Docherty, 36, from Glasgow, saw her health decline significantly in her 30s.

The dentist had started getting her end-of-life affairs in order to support her husband, Andy, 35, and having a family was out of the question.

CF is a condition which causes sticky mucus to build up in the lungs and digestive system. This leads to lung infections and problems with digesting food.

Gillian Docherty with her husband Andy and their son Frederick (Queen Elizabeth University Hospital/PA)

Eventually, without proper management, patients face a significantly shortened life expectancy and many require lung transplants as there is no cure for the illness.

But in 2018, Mrs Docherty met the criteria for a clinical trial of the now-approved drug Kaftrio, which reverses main symptoms of CF.

Within two weeks of taking the medication, she saw her lung function increase from 38% to 74%.

Today it is more than 80%, and continues to improve.

The recovery has allowed her and Andy to have a son, Frederick, in December.

Mrs Docherty described the medication as “utterly mind-blowing”.

“Within three hours I could feel it working,” she said.

“That first night, I went to sleep and woke up seven hours later – something that hadn’t happened for years.

“Midnight coughing fits and waking up with chest pain were the norm for me.

“That first morning I slept through the night Andy and I just woke up and looked at each other, lost for words at how effective the drug was.”

Before taking the drug, Mrs Docherty said that at the age of 33 she was unable to climb the stairs.

She was taking more than 70 pills a day to keep symptoms at bay, and was regularly admitted to the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital (QEUH) to manage increasing infections related to her illness.

“I couldn’t even go to the cinema because people would complain about my coughing,” she added.

“I was severely underweight, constantly exhausted and just existing.

“I would never have been well enough to sustain a pregnancy.

“I was fighting illness all the time and I knew that even if we did have a child, it was very likely that I wouldn’t be there to help raise them.

“We didn’t plan for a future as we wouldn’t have much of one.”

Mrs Docherty said she is continuing to build back her strength, so much so that she managed to go on a dream trip to Australia just before the pandemic.

Speaking about her treatment at QEUH, she added: “I want to thank all of the staff who’ve helped me manage my condition over the years.

“The CF multidisciplinary team have become like family and have always been an advocate for me throughout my treatment.”

The QEUH provides the national CF service for patients with the condition.

Since Kaftrio was approved, more than 250 patients have experienced the life-changing benefits which, coupled with ongoing care and treatment at the hospital, enables them to live healthier lives.

Dr Gordon Magregor, consultant physician at the QEUH and one of the team looking after Mrs Docherty, said: “We have a large expert team of staff delivering CF care within the QEUH and Kaftrio has really been a gamechanger in treating the patients for whom it is clinically appropriate.

“It helps keep them out of the hospital and enables them to live pretty normal lives, albeit they will always need a level of care from staff for their condition.

“It’s fantastic to see the impact it’s had on Gillian, who has gone from rapid deterioration and an uncertain future to having a family and bright days and years ahead.”