lifestyle

I posed naked to show that my scars are beautiful


Ten years ago, two people lay in hospital dying. One of them was me, the other was a stranger who would go on to save my life. 

I remember the night my new heart came clearly. 

My parents had gone home for the evening after spending the day by my bedside in intensive care. The nurses had attempted to settle me down for the night although I rarely slept through – they were always long, lonely and uncomfortable. Although I was on full life support and pumped full of drugs every hour of the day, I was conscious a lot of the time.

This particular night, I noticed some hustle and bustle around my bedspace, which was unusual. Then my parents appeared, and I could feel a slight air of excitement – which is unusual in a children’s intensive care unit.

My questions elicited no revealing responses until a familiar face appeared by my bed: Lynne, my transplant coordinator. She was standing talking to my parents, and I asked her something I had never asked before: ‘Is it my heart, Lynne?’

She smiled, said nothing and resumed her conversation. That night I was given the gift of life. 

I was born with a serious heart condition called Atrioventricular Septal Defect with Left Atrial Isomerism, which meant there were holes between the chambers of the two sides of my heart. I had minor surgery at six months old and my first major bypass surgery at just two but I was relatively healthy until I was around eight years old.

I had my first major bypass surgery at just two (Picture: Provided by Cecilia Adamou)

Over the course of a couple of years, my health began to deteriorate as my heart wasn’t functioning properly.

I became lethargic and struggled to keep up with my peers; I had to give up my favourite hobbies including swimming and dancing, and my quality of life began to decline. Even finishing a school day became difficult. 

In April 2010, at the age of 10, my cardiac team decided I needed heart surgery for the third time to improve its function and try and alleviate the symptoms I was having. Unfortunately my weak and poorly heart couldn’t cope with the major changes that were made and I had a cardiac arrest the following night.

End-stage heart failure followed. I was initially kept unconscious on full life support in the intensive care unit but even though I regained some consciousness over the next few months, my life hung in the balance. Each day presented a new and life-threatening problem. Finally, it was decided that a heart transplant was the only way I would survive. When my parents told me I needed a new heart, it was the first time I had ever seen my dad cry.

I was prioritised as the most urgent patient on the Europe-wide organ transplant waiting list, although it was still a month before a suitable heart became available. My terrified parents followed me down to theatre, preparing to potentially say goodbye to me for the last time. 

The road to recovery was winding, to say the least (Picture: Provided by Cecilia Adamou)

The transplant surgery wasn’t straightforward. It took 12 hours and I had another cardiac arrest. Not knowing whether the transplant had been successful or not, my parents were by my side constantly.

The road to recovery was winding, to say the least. I was on life support for another three months, making it an eight-month stint altogether. I finally turned a corner and made it home just in time for Christmas 2010.

Unfortunately, being so ill for so long had wreaked havoc on my body and although my heart was doing well, my kidneys had failed and I had to have dialysis. It was incredibly frustrating; I was missing yet more school and found it hard to integrate into a normal life.

I also completely lost my ability to walk as I suffered severe nerve damage in my feet. This was the hardest thing to live with – suddenly having to use a wheelchair was a huge adjustment and I missed my independence.

I eventually had to have a kidney transplant too, and after one and a half years on dialysis, my mum donated one of her kidneys. For the second time, I had been given a new lease of life – and after intensive physiotherapy and major foot surgery in 2013, I slowly regained my ability to walk despite being told by multiple doctors that I never would. I will, however, be disabled for the rest of my life.

It took a lot for me to show my scars, which of course I am self-conscious about, to the world (Picture: Sophie Mayanne)

I have also been left with scars all over my body. Most notably, my heart transplant left a jagged, untidy scar down the middle of my chest and I have small uneven splodge shaped scars all over my torso from various chest drains and catheters.  

Last year I took part in a nude photoshoot for an Instagram account called Behind The Scars, a campaign that celebrates people’s scars and the stories behind them. Having followed the account for a while, and seen a number of people pose, I felt inspired to do the same. I wanted to show that having scars isn’t unusual or unflattering, but something special. My scars are the result of trauma but they are beautiful. 

I was completely out of my comfort zone during the shoot. It took a lot for me to show my body, which of course I am self-conscious about, to the world.

However, the response I received was amazingly supportive. I had so many messages from people who told me I had encouraged them to feel more comfortable and accepting of their own scars. It was a really wonderful moment.

While I wanted to show scars to promote body confidence, they also continue to remind me of everything I have managed to overcome. 

My scars are the result of trauma but they are beautiful (Picture: Sophie Mayanne)

Almost unbelievably, while on holiday in Turkey in 2014, at the age of 14, I was diagnosed with a brain tumour and doctors later found four tumours in total, all of which were all linked to my transplants. 

After radiotherapy and chemotherapy, they are now under control and no longer affecting me. I have always prided myself on my ability to make the best of every situation – even if that does involve making an ill-timed joke every now and then. Seconds after being told about the brain tumour I asked my mum, who was close to unconsciousness with shock, whether I still had to complete my school reading – I never did finish Jane Eyre. 

With the unwavering support of my family, I was able to attend university with the rest of my peer group, having completed my GCSEs while having cancer treatment and missing a total of two years of school. I graduated this year with a first class degree in journalism.

I am now looking for a job but in the meantime, I have a YouTube channel and blog dedicated to promoting organ donation. I am also modelling and I want to use my story to motivate anyone with a visible ‘difference’ to love themselves for who they are.

Do you have a story to share? Get in touch by emailing kathryn.snowden@metro.co.uk

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My Life Through A Lens

My Life Through a Lens is an exciting series on Metro.co.uk that looks at one incredible photo, and shares the story that lies behind it. If you have an experience you would like to share, please email kathryn.snowdon@metro.co.uk with MLTAL as the subject.


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