Organ Donation Week: “I feel lucky to have been given this life”

Linzi Saunders and her drawing following her heart transplant

Published on 04 September 2019

Linzi Saunders knows better than anyone the importance of signing the NHS Organ Donor Register.

In her 22 years, she has had her life saved three times thanks to transplant surgery.

If it had not been for someone agreeing to donate their organs, Linzi, a student at the University of Sunderland, would not be here to tell her story.

Now, as part of Organ Donation Week, Linzi, who is preparing to embark on an MA in Fine Art at the University, is urging others to add their names to the Register.

Linzi, of Sunderland, said: “I have received three transplants; bone-marrow, heart and kidney.

“I feel so lucky to have had them as each one has helped to continue the life I love so very much.

“Because of everything I have been through I now find my ambition in life is to promote organ donation whenever I can and however I can. I hope to inspire others in any way I can; in a conversation, within my artwork as a student, or doing my donors proud by competing in the British Transplant Games every year.”

Linzi’s remarkable story starts not long after she was born. Diagnosed with two different complex types of leukaemia, medics decided they had no option but to try new research medication, with Linzi becoming the first patient to undergo this type of treatment.

It was then decided that a bone marrow transplant would be needed and all Linzi’s family were tested to see if they would be possible donors.

Her brother, James, proved a perfect match but, despite a successful transplant, the new treatment Linzi was receiving began affecting her heart and she went on to develop cardiomyopathy by the age of eight.

It was a condition doctors could not ignore and while still a pupil at Ryhope Junior School in Sunderland, Linzi was told she would need a new heart.

Put onto the NHS Organ Donor Register, she waited five weeks before being told that a donor heart had been found.

Linzi went into Newcastle’s Freeman Hospital on December 4, 2005, for the operation.

While mum Michelle, 50, and dad James, 53, waited by her bedside, Linzi astounded doctors by making a speedy recovery, returning to her Ryhope home on December 23.

Despite her fightback, Linzi would go on to miss much of Year 4 at school as she attended regular hospital appointments so specialists could keep a check on her.

But in 2014 Linzi developed the Norovirus which had a huge impact on her already weak kidneys.

It was a blow medics could not ignore as Linzi’s kidneys were only operating at 42% due to the treatment she had received as a baby.

The youngster was put back on the NHS Organ Donor Register. Again, medics tested members of her family to see if there was anyone who might match.

In a bizarre twist of fate, the mum-in-law of one of Linzi’s sisters also agreed to be tested - and turned out to be an ideal match.

On September 21, 2017, Linzi underwent her third transplant, again at Newcastle’s Freeman Hospital.

Linzi said: “Organ donation is so important to me as it has saved my life on more than one occasion, all three transplants have helped me achieve my goals in life such as competing in the British Transplant Games and starting college and university as well as getting on with normal everyday life.

“Having people sign up to the Organ Donor Register and people telling their family their wishes about donation is so important. It's truly amazing how one person can save eight people on the waiting list by donating their organs.”

In July this year, Linzi graduated from her Fine Art degree in front of family and friends at the Stadium of Light.

To sign the NHS Organ Donor Register, please click here