The call through about 6am on January 22, but Kate Hansen didn’t hear it.
Her phone was on silent as she was trying to get some rest after a busy Christmas period.
Thankfully, the hospital didn’t stop there. They rang her mother who then rang Kate’s fiance Zac at work. He then called his aunty Fiona who came knocking on Kate’s windows with the news: they’d found an organ donor match for the 32-year-old.
“I burst into tears, I didn’t know what to do,” Kate told news.com.au.
“Fiona helped me upstairs to shower and I was sobbing like a baby.”
At the time, she had less than a year to live.
When Kate got the call in January, she had already been on the organ transplant waiting list on-and-off for about seven years. Shortly after she appeared on news.com.au, she had a cardiac arrest and died for about 15 minutes.
The Melbourne resident was told she had about six months to live if she didn’t get a kidney and pancreas transplant.
“I was told I would need a transplant by July this year,” she said.
Kate, who also featured in the documentary Dying to Live, was prepared to die, having written letters to her family and friends and planned and paid for her own funeral.
Even when the call came through, Kate couldn’t quite believe the transplant would happen as she’d been in that situation before only for the surgery to be cancelled at the last minute.
“I got all the way to the hospital, I was in bed with all the drips in when they came out and said the pancreas had cancer and we couldn’t proceed,” she said.
Thankfully, this time things were different and Kate was able to have a successful transplant.
She described the process as a “rollercoaster” and said the transplant left her in severe pain. Surprisingly, her mental health also suffered, which she believes may have been related to the large amounts of medication she was taking, some of which gave her hallucinations.
“The medication and the pain is indescribable,” she said.
“They cut me from top to bottom, I had no energy and was very weak. I had to take about 50 tablets a day.”
It took about 10 days for the pain to subside and there was a small setback when Kate contracted a blood infection, but now she’s firmly on the mend.
Less than a month after her operation she can’t believe how much her life has already improved.
“I haven’t been able to wee in about eight years, so it’s amazing to feel that I’ve got to get up and go to the toilet,” she said.
“It’s little things like appreciating being able to wee.”
Kate no longer needs dialysis three times a week and is also no longer diabetic, which is a condition she has required medication for since she was three years old.
“I’ve had no dialysis or insulin since January 23, which is so strange to me, it’s incredible.”
She also used to suffer from a constant need to vomit, but this has also disappeared.
In a few months, she hopes to be able to stand up property and regain her strength. She’s also looking forward to having a proper shower. For about eight years, she has not been able to wash one side of her body where a medical port was installed so had to wash her hair in a sink.
“Things like that don’t cost anything, but they are the best things at the moment,” she said.
Eventually, Kate is keen to get back to work and travelling. She hopes to start planning a wedding next year after being engaged for three years.
She is even looking forward to small things like being able to get up and clean her house.
“It’s just about being a normal girl again, going for a run, playing netball, having a meal. It’s all still quite far away but it’s there — I can see it,” she said.
One important thing for Kate is to put more energy into her charity work including supporting Zaidee’s Rainbow Foundation.
“My job is to get better and honour my donor with every single breath I take,” she said. “I think about my donor and their family every single day.
“It makes me sad that their family is no longer whole but it gave me and my family my life back. There are no words to describe how precious that is.”
In January this year, it was revealed organ donations and transplants in Australia had risen to their highest rate, but there were still about 1400 Australians on the waiting list for a transplant and another 11,000 on dialysis, many who would benefit from a kidney transplant.
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Kate urged people to consider becoming organ donors and, most importantly, to tell family members about their wishes because they ultimately made the final decision to go ahead with the transplant.
Now that she can contemplate the many years ahead of her, Kate says she struggles sometimes to feel worthy of her donor’s wonderful gift.
“Sometimes I feel, someone died, am I worthy? I know it sounds silly … but they have given me my life back, and I can’t thank them enough.”