Margaret Benson wasn’t sure she’d make it to her 41st birthday. But according to the doctors who diagnosed her with cystic fibrosis at the age of 14, she wasn’t supposed to survive past 15. Instead, she defied the odds, not just surviving but thriving. Margaret went on to graduate high school, attended Simon Fraser University, got her teacher’s certificate, found her dream job as a teacher, and got married. Life was great, until her health started declining.
By 1998, Margaret was so sick she went into congestive heart failure. Her medical team told her husband Brian if she survived, she would need a double lung transplant. Margaret again proved everyone wrong and made it through. She was put on the transplant list February 1999, celebrated her 40th birthday five months later, and as the wait dragged on, the North Vancouver woman had to quit teaching. Finally, she got the call. Margaret got to go home with her new lungs just in time to ring in the year 2000. By this time in the world of transplantation, doctors had started to realize they did not need to transplant heart and lungs together, which had been common practice up until then. Surgeons had also changed their technique so patients were able to recover faster with less physical trauma.
Since her transplant, Margaret continues to honour her donor by dedicating much of her time as a volunteer with BC Transplant and the Canadian Transplant Association. The Zumba instructor also stays very active – cycling, riding horses, and setting records at the World Transplant Games. Margaret says ongoing research has brought many changes in post-transplant care over the past 15 years. “For example back then, no one really talked about the importance of an active life after recovery. Now they really encourage people to get back to ‘normal’ life as quickly as possible, work out, take care of your body.”
Now in training for the 2015 World Transplant Games in Argentina, Margaret says she is living proof that research works. She hopes one day science will advance to the point where we will be able to ‘grow’ new organs for those with no options left. “Without research, without organ donors and organ families, we would not be alive.”