A cystic fibrosis patient who went from planning her own funeral to welcoming a baby has praised a “miracle” drug for giving her life back to her.
Gillian Docherty from Glasgow believed she was living on borrowed time after being diagnosed with the condition, as she struggled to walk up a flight of stairs, was constantly coughing and always felt exhausted.
The 36-year-old had even started to get her affairs in order to support husband Andy in the event of her death from the condition.
Cystic fibrosis (CF) causes sticky mucus to build up in the lungs and digestive system, which can cause lung infections and problems digesting food.
“We didn’t plan for a future as we wouldn’t have much of one”Gillian Docherty
Without proper management, patients face a significantly shortened life expectancy and many need lung transplants as there is no cure for the illness.
Although the pair wanted to start a family, Gillian’s declining health meant having a baby was out of the question.
“I would never have been well enough to sustain a pregnancy,” she said.
“I was fighting illness all the time and I knew that even if we did have a child, it was very likely that I wouldn’t be there to help raise them.
“It was very much a personal decision which we had taken. We didn’t plan for a future as we wouldn’t have much of one.”
Taking upwards of 70 pills every day, Gillian was regularly admitted to Queen Elizabeth University Hospital (QEUH) in Glasgow to manage increasing infections and issues relating to her CF.
However, in 2018, she met the criteria for a clinical trial of now-approved drug Kaftrio, which effectively reversed the effects of the illness.
Within two weeks of taking the drug, Gillian’s lung function increased from 38% to 74%. Now it is over 80% and continues to improve.
“It was utterly mind-blowing,” Gillian said, “Within three hours I could feel it working.
“That first night, I went to sleep and woke up seven hours later – something that hadn’t happened for years.
“Midnight coughing fits and waking up with chest pain were the norm for me. That first morning I slept through the night. Andy and I just woke up and looked at each other, lost for words at how effective the drug was.”
Taking the drug meant the couple were able to realise their dream of starting a family, welcoming baby Fredrick in December last year.
Gillian has continued to build up her strength and managed a dream trip to Australia just before the pandemic hit.
Now, she and Andy are able to plan for the future – an alien concept three years ago.
QEUH is the national CF service for patients with the condition and since Kaftrio was approved, more than 250 patients are now experiencing the life-changing benefits, which, coupled with ongoing care and treatment at the hospital, enables them to live full and normal lives.
Dr Gordon Magregor, consultant physician at QEUH and one of the team looking after Gillian, said: “We have a large expert team of staff delivering CF care within the QEUH and Kaftrio has really been a game-changer 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.”
Gillian added: “I want to thank all of the staff who’ve helped me manage my condition over the years.
“The CF multidisciplinary team have become like family and have always been an advocate for me throughout my treatment.”