Born with a congenital heart condition, life has never been – and never will be – easy for Kerri Cargill.
From the moment she could walk and talk, people have told her what she can’t do – and for good reason. Kerri’s condition made every day a blessing and, if being cautious kept her safe, then a cautious approach was taken at every turn.
That changed at 42, when Kerri’s health deteriorated even further. She developed an ultra-rare lung condition caused by her existing heart condition.
Critically ill, doctors told her she had 12 months to live unless she underwent a double lung and heart transplant – a procedure that, at the time, had never been performed in the ACT.
After watching a friend die waiting for her own transplant, Kerri said the mental hurdles throughout that period were just as significant as the physical ones. She eventually got her transplant, and the procedure was a success, but the challenge was far from over.
“It’s a tough operation and the recovery was a one-year physical recovery and then a year’s mental recovery,” Kerri said. “I’m not ashamed to say that I had quite significant mental health battles.”
That was before she came to an important realisation.
“At the three-year mark, I realised that my body could do a lot of things and my heart and lungs were thriving by then,” Kerri said. “It was just amazing. I was running upstairs and doing things that I could never have dreamed of doing before.”
From there, Kerri started trying a number of things she’d always wanted to try – and called on the help of international powerlifter Megan Hinchley.
“I was referred to Megan and, when I first started working with her, one or two kilos was really heavy,” Kerri said. “She just worked and worked with me and she makes it so much fun … and then all of a sudden I started to have this confidence in my body that I’d never had before.”
That was when she decided to follow in the footsteps of her personal trainer and begin weightlifting.
“I started with the five-kilo bar and I thought that was heavy and then one day I lifted 30 kilos and I put it on Facebook and I actually said to her ‘I’ve made it’,” said Kerri. “Megan said, ‘no you’ve got more, we’re going to get you lifting more’. I didn’t believe her, she was the one that had all the confidence in me.”
She crawled slowly from that 30 kg mark until she lifted 90 kg earlier this year. That was when Megan had a proposition for her.
“Then she said ‘right you’re going into a competition and you can lift a hundred’,” said Kerri.
“You wouldn’t believe it, but I went in the competition. I had my family, my friends and a huge amount of support, and I lifted 100 kg that day and got third prize and got the lifter of the day award for the competition in Canberra.”
That day was moving for everyone involved, as friends and family watched on in a mix of disbelief and complete and utter joy.
Kerri said her story was important for people who take their health for granted.
“I just feel elated because I’ve never had a healthy body and now I do, and I’m just shocked at what you can do with a healthy heart and lungs,” she said.
For trainer Megan, watching Kerri’s transformation was one of her “greatest moments”.
“She started off with me very tentatively,” Megan said. “She knew that she wanted to be stronger and fitter post-transplant to give herself the best chance of a healthy life but because of her history, she was very scared from being told her whole life that she couldn’t do things.
“Just with time, she was naturally very strong and very driven. I think because she’s had to fight so hard for her health that she puts her everything into it.”
Kerri ran a sellout Gingerbread House Decorating Fundraiser Day on Sunday (28 November) for the Heart Lung Transplant Unit at St Vincent’s Hospital. To add to the donations, you can contact Kerri at 0412 296 661.