Three years ago, Pippa Kent could barely walk across the room unaided, but now she is cycling 100km to raise money for a cause close to her heart.
In 2017, Pippa, who is now 30 and was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis when she was two, underwent a double lung transplant at Royal Papworth Hospital.
Some might think after all this she’d be taking it easy at home during the coronavirus lockdown, but this weekend she’s doing something extraordinary.
She made plans a year ago to cycle from Papworth Hospital in Cambridge, to the Royal Brompton Hospital, in London, on the three-year anniversary of her lung transplant this April.
But with the pandemic, she can no longer cycle between the two specialist heart and lung hospitals where she received care.
Instead, she will ride 100km on her bike in her back garden in Bourn, Cambridgeshire in one sitting on Easter Sunday.
Pippa said: “I’ll be able to virtually ride all the hills on the route, and other people can ride virtually with me on the day. I’m doing this to show that those with transplants are resilient and we aren’t going to give up.
“It’s also a tribute to my donor and his family. I’m so grateful to have this second chance.”
Pippa, was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis as a young child, which is a genetic condition affecting more than 10,500 people in the UK. It causes sticky mucus to build up in the lungs and digestive system, causing lung infections, digestive issues, and may eventually cause the lungs to stop working properly.
Pippa’s parents knew keeping her lungs healthy was one of the best ways to give her a long and happy life with her condition, so as a child she was busy exercising, representing Cambridge in swimming and completing two ski seasons throughout university.
However after a childhood with remarkably few hospital visits, her lungs finally failed her when she was 26.
She was put on a transplant list but even became too unwell to go through the invasive procedure of receiving a transplant at one point. She started spending most of her time in hospital, was unable to walk across a room and needed an oxygen mask 24 hours a day.
In 2017 she was well enough to go back on the waiting list and received a donor within five days.
Pippa said: “Without this operation, there is no doubt I wouldn’t be here today.”
Pippa received the collaborative care of two amazing hospitals for her treatment. Brompton Hospital took care of her pre-surgery, and Papworth Hospital in Cambridge gave her the eight-hour life-saving procedure.
“The treatment has been amazing. After the surgery I was sat up as soon as I was conscious and given jelly and ice cream. I was up and walking around the wards. I was on an exercise bike on day seven. By day 13 I was at home with my parents and partner.”
Right now every day in the UK someone dies waiting for a transplant. In 2018 there were more people waiting for a lung transplant than five years before according to NHS Blood and Transplant figures. Those waiting who suffer from CF like Pippa can’t receive many donated lungs, as CF patients grow up small due to digestive issues.
Around 17 per cent of people listed for lung transplant died one year later, with family refusal remaining the main reason why organ donation doesn’t occur.
In the years since, Pippa has made some huge achievements, and said she regrets nothing.
She said: “I got married in December 2019 to my husband Harry.
“I quit a job I hated and who didn’t appreciate me and have set up freelancing on my own. I’ve become a governor at Papworth Hospital, as a way of giving back.”
She also runs a popular blog called ‘Now What Can I Eat’, which guides people through life after a transplant, and shares resources to help those eat healthily whilst immunosuppressed.
This is why Pippa is cycling 100km this weekend
This Sunday Pippa will be celebrating the third anniversary of her transplant with a mammoth task with her new lungs. She originally planned to cycle between the two hospitals that saved her life, but due to the coronavirus lockdown, she’s modified the challenge.
She’ll still be riding 100km but will do it virtually on a turbo trainer in her back garden.
Pippa decided on this feat a year ago, to prove to herself that she could do it and to raise awareness for the life-giving act of organ donation. The money she raises will go equally to the two hospitals who cared for her.
It is something that has, at some point, touched all our lives.
From cradle to grave, the National Health Service, and the incredible professionals within it who care for us, is a part of British life.
Today, more than ever, we should cherish those who dedicate themselves to our care, heedless of own health as they work tirelessly to care for people in the face of the Coronavirus pandemic.
Nurses and others – employed by the NHS and any other part of health and care – we have never needed them more.
So let’s show them some love, and create a living map of gratitude from every corner of Britain – visit www.thanksamillionnhs.co.uk to drop a heart on the map wherever you are in the world.
By dropping a heart on the map, you’re saying you appreciate the efforts undertaken daily in the NHS.
Thanks a million, NHS workers – we love you
This challenge has been a team effort, with Townsends Light Blue Cycle Centre in Cambridge donating a bike to her, and her friends, parents and husband training with her.
However, her training hasn’t been a smooth ride.
“I hadn’t been on a bike in over six years,” said Pippa. “I’m proving to myself I can do new things, push to my limit and teach myself how far I can go.”
She started with very small rides, and she vividly remembers the point where doing one or two kilometres was challenging.
Then another hurdle hit. In February 2020 she got the news that she was in chronic lung rejection.
Pippa said: “There is no cure. My lungs will start to decline and at some point, I won’t be able to breathe like I now can.”
She added: “I will keep fighting for as long as I can to halt the progression of the rejection. I’m making the most of the time I have, but I’d like lots more years.”
Right now she is managing her health with modified treatment and is keeping as healthy as she can.
Despite being disheartened however, Pippa said: “It keeps me motivated. Now I know there’s a time limit on my health again.”
Pippa wants to send a message to those thinking about organ donation to have the conversation with their families now, before it’s too late.
In May 2020 the organ donation law will change to an ‘opt-out’ system, this means that people will automatically be organ donors unless they decide otherwise.
However Pippa said the new system can still lead to confusion.
She said: “Family can still override your wishes and opt you out, so you need to have those conversations so they understand your wishes.”
Despite her challenges, Pippa said she is ready for her virtual journey this Easter Sunday.
She added: “This will be a real challenge and a different challenge from what I had planned. I’m hoping people will still cheer me on (from a distance) to finish this ride together.”
To donate to Pippa’s cause you can visit her JustGiving page . If you’d like to follow her progress and read her recipes for immunosuppressed diet go to her blog Now What Can I Eat.