Transplantation

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Val Weblin tells why he cherishes his life

As someone who has battled cystic fibrosis all his life, Val Weblin is entitled to feel like he has been dealt a cruel hand. Far from it. The 35-year-old from Drimoleague actually counts his blessings.

Thirteen years ago, he had a double lung transplant that has given him a quality of life he now cherishes.
“Unfortunately, my sister, Angie, didn’t make it,” says Val. “She too had cystic fibrosis and was on the list for a lung transplant, but she passed away before that could happen."
“Luckily, I was a candidate and two lungs became available overnight and I travelled to Newcastle in the UK to undergo the operation, which I am happy to say was a great success.

From that perspective, it’s not surprising that Val has a lust for life and wants to enjoy every moment of it.
Like all CF sufferers in Ireland, Val benefits from the work of the Cystic Fibrosisi Association, which was formed 50 years ago this year. The group was set up by parents of CF sufferers in Dublin and soon extended to a Southern branch.

Val attended a fund-raising event for the branch in Cork last Thursday night and says it has proved invaluable to him, not only as a support system, but in assisting his transplant which gave him a better quality of life.
“Yes, they encouraged me, they assessed my wellness and helped process my request to go on the list,” he says. “They followed through when I was accepted and offered me support and information afterwards.”

Growing up, Val did all the things his brothers enjoyed. He played football, he rode motorbikes and he had an active social life. “But I knew my limits,” says Val. “I started slowing down at 14/15 years old and my lungs started collapsing. I ended up in a wheelchair for 18 months, so the chance of getting a lung transplant was like a miracle for me.

“My dad and I are very close and when I got the call to go to Newcastle for the operation, he came with me. We travelled on a small aeroplane from Cork, I remember we were clinging on to one another because it was so rough, we felt every bump, like going over pot-holes in the sky.”

The transplant went well for Val, who was then aged 22.
“My chest muscles were very weak,” he says. “I remember there was an exercise bike in the room and I jumped on that almost straight away to build up my lung capacity. I was extremely determined and positive.

“I remember looking in the mirror in the ward and saying to myself, ‘Wow, I can’t believe this. It’s unreal. I can walk and talk at the same time’.

“I was totally rejuvenated and started my bucket list before I even knew what was on it!”
There was a surprise waiting for him when he got home. “Yes, Cathy Carlton from the Cork support group had called with a little fridge for me. I had to have low-fat products and dairy free milk, which I hated, but Cathy was so kind always.”

Val continued to attend the CF clinic, now based in CUH. “The staff there are great. They keep an eye on my general health. I have diabetes and the staff monitor me regularly. The physio at the clinic assesses me and checks me out whenever I attend the clinic.”

Val learned to drive and got a job in the Airport Business Park, while continued to attend the CF clinic.

The new pair of lungs gave him a new lease of life. He started playing pitch and putt and  five-a-side soccer. And he got married. “Julie proved to be another godsend for me,” says Val. “We met through mutual friends and hit it off straight away. I guessed she was interested in me when she rang me up to ask me to give her driving lessons! That was that.” Julie chips in: “He is marvellous around the house and he keeps the lawn in great shape!”

Val  is in great shape and he looks after his health — he has never drank alcohol or smoked. “I have done things that I never dreamed I could,” says Val. “Julie and I have been to Old Trafford and to the USA, which was amazing.”

But as chairperson of CF, Marian Barrett pointed out, it’s not all plain sailing.
“I had difficulty getting a mortgage,” says Val. “I had to seek advice from a mortgage broker and sign a waiver that Julie is liable to repay the mortgage in the event of anything happening to me in the future. OK, it is discrimination, but we just accept it and get on with life.”

And there is another sad issue that Val and Julie tend not to dwell on. “We can’t have children,” says Val. “The IVF route didn’t work for us and the adoption route proved to be a non-runner in our particular case. But look, God is good and we hope to be able to foster in the future.”

The couple’s three dogs and three cats are spoiled rotten and as we speak Val’s parents are animal-sitting. “We love our animals,” says Julie.

Val admits that he thinks there are a certain amount of drawbacks attached to having CF, but that it’s not the end of the world. “I like being treated normally,” he says. “I like the fact that I have the support of CF Cork.

“I feel privileged that I have the love and support of my family and of my wife. They lighten the load.,“I lost my sister and my best pal to CF. Life is for living. And that’s what I intend to do.”

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"My transplanted organ is still working like Swiss clockwork". Transplant experience
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