Four years ago Gillian Docherty’s cystic fibrosis symptoms were so bad she thought she was living on borrowed time but a new drug improved her health so much she has now had a baby.
Gillian, from Glasgow, told BBC Radio’s Good Morning Scotland programme she had lived with CF all her life but her health had declined significantly after going into hospital with flu in her early 30s.
The 36-year-old dentist says her lung function was so poor she could not climb the stairs or go for a walk.
Gillian says she was severely underweight and constantly exhausted because of coughing 24 hours a day.
She says the only plans she made for the future were getting her end-of-life affairs in order to spare her husband Andy the trouble after she was gone.
Cystic fibrosis is a condition which causes sticky mucus to build up in the lungs and digestive system. This leads to lung infections and problems with digesting food.
Eventually, without proper management, patients face a significantly shortened life expectancy and many require lung transplants as there is no cure for the illness.
In 2018, Gillian was told she met the criteria for a clinical trial of the now-approved drug Kaftrio, which reverses main symptoms of CF.
She told the BBC: “I was so unwell, my lung function was hovering around the 40% mark and it would not be much further before you would be looking at transplant assessment for new lungs, so there was nothing to lose.”
The results of the trial were “mind-blowing”, Gillian says.
“I didn’t expect that within three or four hours of taking the first pills I would start to breathe more easily,” she says.
According to Gillian, her sinuses started to clear and her cough started to break up the mucus in her chest, allowing her to breathe more easily.
“It was absolutely mental,” she says.
Within two weeks of taking the medication, she saw her lung function increase from 38% to 74%.
Today it is more than 80%, and continues to improve.
This meant she could sleep better and exercise more, benefiting her overall health.
“It changed everything,” she says. “There are so many improvements you can’t measure. The colour of my skin is more alive, my hair is healthier, every part of me is healthier.”
And there is one change that she never thought possible.
Even before she became extremely unwell she and her husband had decided against having a family.
She says she would never have been well enough to sustain a pregnancy but even if she did she was concerned about living long enough to raise a child.
“I didn’t want my child’s mother to die and that’s certainly what would have happened,” she says.
But Gillian says the dramatic effect of the drug led the couple to reconsider and, in December, baby Frederick was born.
Since Kaftrio was approved, more than 250 patients have undergone treatment at the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in Glasgow.
Dr Gordon MacGregor, consultant physician at the QEUH and one of the team looking after Mrs Docherty, said: “We have a large expert team of staff delivering CF care within the QEUH and Kaftrio has really been a gamechanger in treating the patients for whom it is clinically appropriate.
“It helps keep them out of the hospital and enables them to live pretty normal lives, albeit they will always need a level of care from staff for their condition.
“It’s fantastic to see the impact it’s had on Gillian, who has gone from rapid deterioration and an uncertain future to having a family and bright days and years ahead.”
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