Dani owes second chance at life to organ donation
By NERIDA BLOK
IF DANI CHANNON could meet the family of the donor who gave her a second chance at life, she'd be lost for words.
"What can you say?" said Dani, 22, of Lennox Head. "There are no words to describe how appreciative I am."
Eight months ago, Dani featured on The Northern Star's front page after becoming the 73rd Australian to have had a heart and double lung transplant at Sydney's St Vincent's Hospital.
Now, she is talking for the first time to the media about her amazing recovery from this still rare operation.
Born with congenital heart disease, Dani has been defying doctors all her life.
At birth her parents were told she wasn't expected to live beyond three days, then they were told she wouldn't make three weeks.
And in July last year, Dani defied doctors again by successfully pulling through two operations totalling 16 hours.
Returning home from Sydney in November, Dani said the first thing she did was to find her cat, Coco Whiskers, and dog, Elle.
"I hadn't seen them for four months," she said. "They're like my kids, I missed them so much."
The spritely former Southern Cross High School student has come a long way by working hard to build up muscle, regain body strength and regain weight after dropping to 37 kilos.
Dani said she was swimming 40 to 60 laps in her pool each day.
"Whereas before I could only swim half the length," she said.
"And if I don't do that, I play volleyball in the pool with my dad (Geoff), until he gets buggered and has to get out."
Dancing until her feet ache also has been on the agenda.
"I went out and danced at a nightclub in Ballina a few weeks ago," she said.
"The only reason I stopped was because my feet were killing me."
Dani's eyes lit up when she remembered getting 'the call' at 7pm on July 12 last year to say matching donor organs had been found.
After 17 months on a waiting list, a plane was sent to pick up Dani and fly her to Sydney at 11pm that night for the operation, which occurred the following day.
"I was really glad when I got the call because, although I hadn't told anyone, I was starting to feel sick," she said.
"Just walking a few metres and having to shower were taking me longer."
Dani said a shortage of donor organs continues to put lives on hold.
"I have a friend from Western Australia who was put on the list the same day as me and she's still waiting," she said.
"Most people say 'yes', but then their family says 'no'."
A chance meeting with Fiona Coote, Australia's youngest heart transplant recipient, helped inspire Dani through her ordeal.
Dani first met Fiona at an Australia Day celebration in Alstonville in 2000, just after she had been told by her doctor of her heart condition and her need for a transplant.
"I had freaked out when the doctors told me," Dani said.
"But Fiona told me about her situation and made me feel at ease."
Then, one week after her transplant operation in Sydney, Dani's mother, Wendy, ran into Fiona again at the heart-lung transplant clinic.
"She said she'd call me in a few weeks, which she did," Dani beamed.
"It was good because I could relate to her more this time because I understood what she'd been through. She gave me some good advice like on medication and how to go travelling."
Dani's plans now include finding a job and doing some study, 'once I work out what I want to do'.
In the meantime, recovery remains her focus.
And that also includes monthly return trips to Sydney for check-ups and daily medication of up to 30 tablets.
"But that's a small price to pay," she said.
Dani's family wish to thank Lismore paediatrician, Dr David Gilmore, and nursing staff at the Lismore Base Hospital for their ongoing support.