How Organ Donation Helped Create A New Life

Heidi becomes a mum after two liver transplants

Five years ago, bringing another life into the world was the last thing on Heidi Castleden’s mind.

At that point in time, she was barely clinging on to her own life.

Heidi was diagnosed with the rare liver disease primary sclerosing cholangitis (PSC) when she was just 15. She had her first liver transplant when she was barely out of her teens, and ten years later, her new liver was again failing.

She says she was “probably as unwell as you can get without dying, pretty much”. But for the second time in her life, the miracle gift of a stranger’s liver brought her back from the brink.

“When I first saw her in the ICU recovery, it was just amazing, she was nearly unrecognisable,” says Heidi’s husband James.

“It was one the best days we’ve had as a couple.”

Last month, the couple had another life-changing moment, when their daughter Polly came into the world.

It’s believed that she’s one of fewer than 100 Australian women who have had a baby after an organ transplant.

It was far from an easy journey, though.

“I got pregnant several times and lost them around the 10-12 weeks,” Heidi recalls. “I was at my limit of that rollercoaster of excitement and disappointment and heartbreak.”

Miscarriages are one of the pregnancy complications which are more common among liver transplant recipients. The mother may have to deal with hypertension or pre-eclampsia, while the baby may experience low birth weight or foetal distress.

But despite being delivered five weeks premature, and after careful monitoring throughout Heidi’s pregnancy, Polly came out as healthy as anyone could hope for.

“Everything and everybody was on standby for this baby because who knew how she was going to come out, what she was going to need, what was going to happen,” Heidi says, “and a lot of what they were expecting and thinking they were going to need, she didn’t need. She was over 6 pounds and quite a healthy, robust thing.”

It’s a remarkable tale that proves the power of organ donation. As Heidi herself says,

“You’re not just saving someone’s life... like with us - it’s creating life.”