Paul Woodward is one of the longest surviving transplant patients in the country.
Later this year will mark three decades since the 52-year-old received a double lung transplant that completely transformed his life. The donated organs were a gift that have enabled Paul, who has cystic fibrosis, to live life to the fullest, after suffering chronic breathing problems in his late teens and struggling to walk more than a few metres.
But being a transplant patient with a long-term lung condition means he is considered to be at high risk of getting seriously ill from Covid-19 and he has been deemed to be vulnerable throughout the pandemic.
Paul, who lives in Seacroft in Leeds, has tested positive for the virus twice, first in November 2020 and again in January 2022.
Thankfully, the first time he wasn’t unwell and whilst he only had minor symptoms such as coughing and sneezing earlier this year, he was at exceptionally high risk of developing complications.
Paul, who also has diabetes, became one of the first to benefit from an NHS antibody treatment for the virus. He was contacted by doctors and offered an antibody infusion, which helps to stop Covid-19 from getting into the lungs and causing an infection, at St James’s Hospital.
“Knowing that I could have it and that I would be protected more from Covid and its impact, I was really pleased,” says Paul, who has lost friends to the virus during the pandemic. “I was never going to turn it away.
“I know a lot of transplant patients, and people with cystic fibrosis, who are scared of getting Covid so badly that it seriously harms them so the antibody infusion is a big hope for people. I think every vulnerable person should have it.”
The treatment, offered to eligible high-risk individuals who have symptoms and have tested positive for the virus, is designed to help people manage the illness and reduce the risk of them becoming seriously poorly and requiring hospital treatment. It also helps to prevent reinfection for at least four weeks.
As well as the antibody infusion, the NHS is offering antiviral medicines as another treatment option for patients at the highest-risk from Covid-19.
Since mid-December 2021, more than 2000 clinically vulnerable people across West Yorkshire (Bradford District and Craven, Calderdale, Kirklees, Leeds, and Wakefield) have been assessed for the treatments, and as of last month, 25 per cent of those assessed had received a treatment at an outpatient unit or in their home.
Dr Steve Ollerton, Clinical Lead for West Yorkshire Health and Care Partnership Primary and Community Care Programme says: “The vaccination programme remains the first line of defence against Covid-19, along with the everyday precautions we can all take to protect one another - mask wearing, social distancing and regular testing.
“The new treatments have an important role to play for our patients who are at highest risk of becoming very ill with Covid due to their other health issues.”
Paul was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis, a condition that causes sticky mucus to build up in the lungs and digestive system, when he was aged seven. “My mum and dad were told they’d be lucky to see me live until the age of 18,” he says.
At around the age of 15, Paul’s health began declining and he would end up in and out of hospital for much of his late teens.
Suffering with chronic breathing difficulties, at age 21, Paul was put on the list for a double lung transplant, with doctors expecting he would only live for a matter of months without it.
Even with it, he was told his life would likely be extended by around five years.
After eight months of being on the transplant list, Paul had the call that would change his life. On September 20, 1992, he underwent a 12 hour operation at Freeman Hospital in Newcastle.
“There were a lot of complications, “ Paul says. “Apparently halfway through they said to my mam it wasn’t looking good. When they’d finished up it could have gone one way or the other.”
Within five weeks, Paul was back home recuperating. “It made such a difference…it changed my life. It was scary at the time but once I’d come through the operation, I felt amazing.”
Before the transplant, he had struggled to walk a matter of metres without struggling to breathe. He has since, in 2016, competed in athletics and cycling events at British and European Transplant Games.
Paul shielded for around five months at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. “It then got to the stage where I thought to myself, I could start to do more things and go out a bit more,” he says. He did just that from September 2020, but within weeks, he caught Covid in that November.
“You can’t hide at home forever, at some point you are going to be going out and it just happened that when I started going out a bit more, I caught Covid,” he says.
“It was a bit of sod’s law to stay in all those months then come out for a few weeks and get it. I was lucky though, my chest never got bad, I wasn’t unwell. I had a bit of fuzziness in my head but I wasn’t poorly.”
When he contracted the virus for a second time, his doctor sent him to hospital for checks to make sure his chest wasn’t affected. After a couple of days at home with the virus, he then had the antibody treatment.
“There’s been Covid patients in hospital on ventilators and that could have been me at any time,” he reflects. “I consider myself to be really lucky.”
*Information about the antibody and antiviral treatments for Covid-19 can be found on the NHS website. If you’re eligible and you test positive for the virus, the NHS says it’s important to start the treatment as soon as possible.
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