A woman who has become the first in the UK to undergo pioneering stem cell treatment says it has given her a new lease of life.
Roisin Kelleher-O’Callaghan, 20, has suffered with cystic fibrosis since she was a baby, and last year was diagnosed with the heart condition pulmonary hypertension.
Her health rapidly deteriorated and she needed constant oxygen to help her breathe and was unable to walk more than a few steps unaided.
The diagnosis left her with little hope for her future until her mum Antionette read about stem cell treatment being pioneered in the Dominican Republic by a US doctor.
It cost £55,000 and Roisin and her family set about raising the money – reaching their target within three months.
The treatment involved Antionette, 49, donating some of her bone marrow and lasted three days.
In total Roisin spent 19 days in the Caribbean country – including the first week sleeping nearly all day every day to get over the long flight.
She has now returned home to Faversham, Kent and said she can already feel a marked improvement.
Roisin said: “It will be about six weeks until I feel the full benefit, but I can definitely see some improvements already.
“Going up the stairs still kills me but it takes me less time to get my breath back. And my heart rate is coming down.
“It used to be at 120/130, but it’s now at about 100 when I’m active and it’s even gone down to 78 when I’ve been sleeping, which is the normal range.
“And that is just amazing. I have always had really shallow breathing because I found it hard, but I can now take deep breaths.
“I have to do breathing techniques to make sure I do it because I am so used to breathing a different way.”
“When mum first mentioned this treatment to me, it just felt like a dream, I never really thought we would be able to raise all that money.”
“The fact that we raised the money in less than three months is just so overwhelming.”
The stem cell treatment heals the damaged lung tissues by mixing healthy cells from the patient’s bone marrow and those of a genetic relative who does not have cystic fibrosis, but is a carrier.
The two are combined and encouraged to become lung cells before they returned to the patient via an intravenous line.
The treatment has only been approved in the Dominican Republic as it is still in its infancy.
Roisin has spent much of her life in and out of hospital missed much of her schooling.
Despite her struggles she has landed herself a place at Christchurch University in Canterbury, Kent to study psychology which she hopes to start in September.
And she is now focusing on making herself well enough so she can live independently in student accommodation.
Antionette, who is her daughter’s full time carer said: “It is just amazing.
“Before the treatment she was sleeping for about 20 hours a day, and then the first night after she had it, she stayed up and got up by herself and said she was going out to the shop.
“Her little brother ran out behind her and I chasing them saying ‘Roisin are you okay?’ And Cian was like’ yes, she’s fine’.
“I could have cried. It was just amazing to see her do that. She is now getting her appetite back, she is awake for longer and just has more energy,
“It is just so overwhelming that people have been so generous to enable Roisin to have this treatment, it’s life-changing for us.”
The family are continuing to fund raise and hope to start a charity to help other people have the treatment.
Donations can be made via www.facebook.com/breathehopeforroisin or Twitter page @Hope_for_Roisin or on www.gofundme.com/breathehope