Cherie Howie is a reporter for the Herald on Sunday.

Teen's second chance at life thanks to liver transplant

After seven long months, teen has had a life-saving liver transplant operation.

Imogen Constantine is celebrating her second chance at life after undergoing successful liver transplant surgery.

The life-changing operation for the 15-year-old came in June, after seven months on the transplant waiting list and eight hours under the surgeon's knife. Imogen's own liver had failed, thanks to a pair of rare auto-immune diseases.

The teen and her family shared their story of life on the transplant waiting list with the Herald on Sunday in May.

The best part of having a new liver was the "sense of well-being", Imogen said this week. "I just didn't have that before. Now I totally realise how sick I was ... when I heard [a liver was available] I was nervous, but I was more excited than nervous. I couldn't wait to get back into life again."

Along with conquering the waves on her surfboard - top of her list - much of what she wants is painfully normal. Spending time with friends, joining a gym and, unlike many teens, going to school, rank highly.

Imogen has already knocked one off the list, returning to Long Bay College six weeks after her transplant.

Along with the transplant, she has to face a reality few of her peers will share - her second chance at life came after another's ended.

Mum Alexandra Constantine, pictured above with Imogen, was tested but was found to be unsuitable as a donor for her daughter, so the teen's new liver is from a deceased donor.

Imogen says she can't imagine what the donor's family has gone through, but is grateful for their decision to donate. "I think it's amazing the decision the family had to make in such a difficult time."

Alexandra says she sometimes can't believe her daughter has a new liver, praising the staff at Auckland City and Starship hospitals and the donor's family. "It does feel like a miracle. She has a life now, she has a future."

But the heartbreaking decision made by the donor's family weighs on her mind. In time, she says, she and Imogen will write them a letter.

"I feel so sad for what happened. I'm just so grateful for their decision. There's no words for the level of gratitude. They have given her a second chance at life.

"I can only hope the knowledge that a part of them lives on in Imogen brings some comfort."

- Herald on Sunday

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