A year on from a double lung transplant at Harefield Hospital, 48-year-old Tim van Someren says his life has been completely ‘re-set’ by organ donation.
Tim was discharged from Harefield Hospital in August 2019 after a double lung transplant in June 2019, following years of worsening health due to Chronic Hypersensitivity Pneumonitis, a form of interstitial lung disease that causes slow and irreversible scarring of the lungs.
Journey to transplant
Tim was recommended for transplant in December 2017. His condition steadily worsened until he was too weak to get out of bed and he was placed on the transplant waiting list in April 2018.
In June 2019 his lungs were failing and he was admitted to Harefield Hospital’s intensive therapy unit (ITU). He was put on Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation (ECMO), a type of life support, to try to help him gain enough strength for future transplant surgery, and was placed on the urgent waiting list.
“At this point it was a pretty close call,” Tim recalled. “I had almost no muscle mass, I’d gone into heart failure a couple of times and I couldn’t breathe on my own, so the ECMO was vital in keeping me alive and well enough for the transplant I hoped was coming.”
After news came of a suitable set of lungs, Tim had his transplant operation, which he said “gave me a second chance at life.”
Post-transplant, he struggled to swallow, speak and move around. Harefield Hospital physiotherapists worked with him as he progressed from ITU to the transplant ward until, two months after his transplant operation, he was able to climb a flight of stairs and walk 100 metres. He was able to go home in late August 2019.
Recalling his time at the hospital, Tim said: “It’s clear that Harefield attracts the best staff. Everyone – the surgeons, consultants, cleaners, catering staff, physiotherapists – does their bit to make you feel at ease. I actually miss going in, being at Harefield was a real bonding experience and I miss catching up with the staff! It’s an amazing place.”
After his transplant, Tim spent the final months of 2019 recovering at home. In February, as his recovery continued, he was told it was safe for him to be outside more and he began walking to the shops again and going out for dinners. He had his first piece of work in over two years lined up for late March, filming a live performance for London’s National Theatre.
The Covid-19 pandemic put an end to this long-awaited return to work and, temporarily, his life in London. As a transplant recipient he was in the clinically extremely vulnerable group and in March, was advised to start shielding. He left his wife and children in London and isolated in the Cotswolds at his father-in-law’s property.
Throughout his period shielding Tim continued to receive remote support from Harefield Hospital.
“The staff at Harefield have been so accessible throughout lockdown. I’ve been able to have check-ups via Zoom and email or phone through any questions I might have. They also held a fantastic webinar for lung transplant patients which re-assured a lot of us who were a bit anxious at this time.”
Looking to the future
Asked about what the future looks like, Tim is keen to get back to work as a freelance television director. He is enjoying being back in London and returning to a normal life.
Commenting on how organ donation has changed his life, he said: “What’s most dramatic about life post-transplant is the undramatic – being able to walk up the street to the shops, cooking dinner for friends, taking my kids to school again.
“The biggest change for me is the ability to do all those normal things you take for granted. To go from not knowing if I’d ever be able to do those things again, to the life I’ve got now – it’s been really extraordinary.
“After an organ transplant, it’s not just the recipient who benefits either – things are now getting back to normal for my family and friends. My wife and I can now share parenting again, I can get back to cooking, which I love, and do school runs again. Organ donation has given us normality back.”
“It’s a really remarkable experience that I’ve gone through, and I’m conscious of making the most of it and taking care of the lungs I’ve been given.”
Tim is currently raising money for Royal Brompton & Harefield Hospitals Charity via its Team Heart vs Team Lungs challenge. You can find out more and support Tim’s efforts here.