'Grace and grit' bring dream 21st closer for brave Jenna

06 April 2015 - 17:50 By SUTHENTIRA GOVENDER


Organ donor campaign champion Jenna Lowe is fighting for her life in a Johannesburg hospital. Lowe, who has life-threatening pulmonary arterial hypertension, had a gruelling 72-hour double lung transplant in December.While her #GetMeTo21 donor awareness campaign, launched last year, is enjoying massive success, she remains in an isolation ward some four months after the surgery.Pulmonary arterial hypertension is high blood pressure in the lungs' arteries, which places strain on the heart.Lowe, who has a trust set up in her name to assist with medical costs, was 17 when doctors told her she was unlikely to live to 21 without a new set of lungs.Her mother, Gabi Lowe, said that her daughter's medical journey and battle to find a donor prompted the awareness campaign and the plan for a birthday party scheduled for later this year.Jenna, 20, has invited everyone who signed up as an organ donor - 4643 people so far - to her 21st at the GrandWest Casino on October 24.Gabi said the diagnosis had spurred Jenna to do something "creative and big".She started the campaign in the hope of attracting donors for the lungs she needed to live and to create awareness about the need for donors.According to the Organ Donor Foundation, there are approximately 4300 patients awaiting life-saving organ and cornea transplants.After four years, Lowe finally underwent the risky bilateral lung transplant in December.Now, 16 weeks later, she continues to fight for her life, moving between the intensive care unit and an isolation ward.Her last post on her blog was in February: "... I received my miracle second chance at life - a bilateral lung transplant. So folks, I am still here."A bilateral lung transplant is one of the most dangerous surgeries possible, but I made it, and now for the first time I have left ICU and I am in the transplant ward, typing to the sounds of a Johannesburg thunderstorm."Recovery is long and slow, and it's been really hard."And there were moments where we thought I wouldn't pull through."Last week Gabi posted a message on Jenna's #GetMeTo21 Facebook page, imploring South Africans to keep the youngster in their prayers because she had suffered difficult setbacks.Gabi said this week that her daughter had "many challenges thrown at her on the transplant roller coaster but is fighting ... with true grace and grit"."W e are very slowly inching forward. Jenna is quite literally the bravest person I know."She said the family remained committed to raising awareness about the urgent need for organ donation in South Africa to help thousands of others awaiting organs.Gabi said her daughter's party would be a celebration of her second chance at life.Lowe was on oxygen for two and a half years before the transplant and had to use a mobility scooter.The executive director of the Organ Donor Foundation, Samantha Nicholls, said Lowe's campaign had had a huge, positive impact."Thousands of people have been signing up thanks to Jenna's efforts. More people registered via our website as well."We are just very appreciative of the fact that Jenna and her family have become involved and are creating awareness via this avenue. Any effort to get more people to sign up as donors is fantastic."Obviously using the patient is a great way to highlight the issue to South Africans. This is a way to show that here is a young girl with dreams and aspirations, who has had a life-saving transplant. It makes it more real," said Nicholls.govendersu@sundaytimes.co.za

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