It’s not often that people are given a second chance at life, and it’s even rarer that someone is given a third chance at life. But that was the case for local woman Julianne Christie, whose life was saved by two people on two separate occasions.
16 years ago, Julianne Christie started to lose weight drastically and her skin started to turn yellow and itchy. She was not aware at the time, but she had symptoms of liver failure.
“My GP picked up that I had symptoms of liver problems so he referred me to a liver specialist, who couldn’t tell what the disease actually was,” Julianne said. “So I was referred to the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, who diagnosed me with a rare disease called primary biliary cholangitis.”
Primary biliary cholangitis is a chronic disease that causes progressive destruction of the bile ducts within the liver and will eventually lead to liver failure. The disease, which is incredibly rare, has no cure. For a woman who had lived a healthy lifestyle, the news that she would need a liver transplant came as a shock.
“I could not fathom that I could be so sick that quickly and in such dire circumstance that I would be the one who needed an organ transplant,” she shared.
“I was always registered as a donor and I donated blood. I had a good diet, I was a netballer, I went to the gym, I didn’t drink or smoke and I was raising a six-year-old. I was fit and really strong.
“To me, it seemed ridiculous.”
It wasn’t for another three years that she received the phone call that changed her life. On Valentine’s Day 2006, Julianne was told to drop everything and rush to the hospital as soon as possible because there was a liver ready for her. She had been given a second gift of life.
Despite a new liver and strong medication to suppress her chronic disease, her liver started to fail again ten years later.
“By August 2017, I had new liver failure symptoms. I was super, super skinny but my stomach had swollen so I looked like I was 12 months pregnant with a baby elephant,” she said. “Everyone thought I was pregnant.
“The swelling even got so bad it broke one of my ribs.”
She quickly deteriorated and within a year, she needed a second transplant and it was back on the waiting list, painstakingly awaiting a phone call that could potentially never come or come too late.
But in March last year, the phone did ring, and on the other end of the line was her second saving grace.
Fast forward to 2019, and Julianne is set to join thousands of Canberrans at Regatta Point on 13 February for the DonateLife Walk, which aims to raise awareness for organ and tissue donation. The walk is very close to Julianne’s heart, knowing what she would have missed out if she hadn’t received the gift of life from two unknown strangers.
“We want to encourage discussion in the workplace and at the dinner table about organ donation,” she shared.
“We want everybody to have the chat that saves lives with their loved ones to make sure they know each other’s decision about organ and tissue donation.
“Organ donation allows someone to continue living their life. There is so much that I would have missed out on and not achieved if I had not of received that first donation. I wouldn’t have seen my son grow up and graduate high school.”