Regan Schoultz is an NZME news service reporter based in Auckland.

A novel way to say thanks

Lung recipient plans a book to encourage people to become organ donors.
Teresa Burt has a new lease on life after a bilateral lung transplant. Photo / Nick Reed
Teresa Burt has a new lease on life after a bilateral lung transplant. Photo / Nick Reed

Just over two years ago, 47-year-old Teresa Burt was lying in Middlemore Hospital on life support, her family fearing she would never wake up.

Now, she has a new set of lungs and is on a mission to raise awareness about organ donation.

The Counties Manukau clerk's brush with death came after contracting respiratory syncytial virus, a common virus that leads to cold-like symptoms in adults.

"The virus hit me hard. I had a history as an asthmatic and then an underlying lung condition I didn't know about," she said.

After a week, her family were advised by doctors to turn off life support. They were told she would likely die within half an hour.

But Burt began breathing by herself and opened her eyes. "After a week in ICU we were getting tired and she was tired," said her husband Andrew.

"The consultant told us they were going to [take the tube out] and they expected her to fail within half an hour. We came to the conclusion that if it is going to happen then it is going to happen."

Her family were told it was unlikely she would ever function properly, mentally and physically, but within two weeks, the mother-of-one was back on her feet ready to go home.

Life was not easy. Her lungs were functioning at only 14 per cent, so Burt was unable to walk more than a few hundred metres before needing a rest. She was given just 12 months to live.

Burt was put on the transplant list to await a set of lungs.

Then in March last year a phone call at 5.55am changed her world.

"They said they had a potential match so they needed me to start getting myself ready and they would be in touch."

The match was confirmed two hours later and Burt was told to head to hospital.

"I wanted to vomit, I was so excited. I think I just kept saying, 'I can't believe this is happening'. And then the reality kicked in that I could die. It was just like a feeling that whatever happens, happens because I was going to die anyway."

Burt was in theatre for seven hours. She woke up about 12 hours after her operation and almost immediately began breathing by herself.

"A physiotherapist had to teach me how to breathe again because my body was so used to small pants. It felt amazing, especially when I realised I had made it."

Now 10 months on from her operation the bilateral lung transplant patient is determined to write a book about her journey to share with others and raise awareness about organ donation.

"I am the 205th person in 20 years [in New Zealand] to have had a lung transplant. For every set of lungs that are transplanted, there are at least three people waiting and that's just for lungs, not heart, kidney or liver," she said.

"Thanks to the donor and their family our family has continued. My daughter has a mother and my granddaughter has a grandmother and my husband has a wife."

Burt plans to have her book finished by December and will self-publish it. For donations towards publishing costs, go to

- Herald on Sunday

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