It was Christmas morning three years ago when Kelly Watson, surrounded by her loved ones opening gifts and laughing, paused to savour the happy scene.

She had carefully chosen the wrapping paper, lovingly prepared the turkey and gone to every possible length to ensure a day to remember.

Kelly pushed the boat out that Christmas because she feared it would be her last.

She needed a double lung transplant and a new heart and had been on waiting lists for years.

But at 7pm that evening, she was granted her own Christmas miracle when doctors rang to say three donor organs had become available.

Kelly’s relief was tempered by the sadness that her new chance of a healthy life was, inevitably, because an organ donor had died. Nevertheless, this was a chance.

Kelly learning to walk again at Newcastle Freeman Hospital in February 2018
Kelly learning to walk again at Newcastle Freeman Hospital in February, 2018

A helicopter was scrambled to pick Kelly up and an eight-hour operation on Boxing Day proved successful.

Now, speaking about her experience for the first time, Kelly, 32, says: “It really was a Christmas miracle.

“I’d almost given up hope of ever having the transplant.

“I knew that someone had to die for me to get their heart, so it was bitter-sweet when I finally received the call.

“But I knew they had wanted to help someone and I had so much more living to do, so I didn’t hesitate.

“I’d been so anxious – I spent years waiting for that call. I almost collapsed when it finally came.”

Kelly, who lives in Aberdeenshire, was born with a rare heart defect called pulmonary hypertension.

It causes seriously high blood pressure but it wasn’t until her 20s that she was told only one of her lungs was working.

Kelly Watson, 32 and boyfriend Richard Noble, 29
Kelly had been given just a few years to live if she didn’t get her miracle

She was on the transplant list for a new left lung for a decade. But things became much more serious in June 2015.

Kelly had been preparing to go camping in Edinburgh with her brother Steven, 34, his partner and their children.

But she collapsed at her home and was found unresponsive.

She recalls: “I wasn’t breathing. I was basically dead.

“My dad phoned 999 and my brother had to resuscitate me before an ambulance came.

“All I remember is going to bed the night before, all excited because of the trip. But my brother found me at 9am the following morning and I was blue.

“I was put in a coma for two weeks and eventually, I was told that I would need a heart and two new lungs if I was to stay alive longer than five years.” Kelly spent the next two years desperately hoping that donor organs would become available.

Her health deteriorated so rapidly that she couldn’t climb stairs or go to work. But she was determined to make the most of things and – wanting something to focus on rather than “waiting to die” – went back to college to study childcare.

Kelly Watson's three nieces - twins Demi (left) and Carly (right) Gray, both eight, and Caitlin Gray, nine (middle)
Kelly’s three nieces – twins Demi (left) and Carly (right) Gray, both eight, and Caitlin Gray, nine (middle)

She found romance, too – meeting her boyfriend, Richard Noble, 29, via Facebook. But by the time Christmas 2017 came around and there was still no sign of a transplant, Kelly’s hopes of survival had plummeted.

That Christmas Day phone call changed everything, however.

Kelly says: “I wasn’t even expecting a call any more. I subconsciously ended up getting my family really sentimental presents and maybe it was because I thought it would be my Christmas last with them.

“I call my nieces and nephews my little sunshines and I got them all photo frames with pictures of us – something to remember me by.

“The call came at 7pm. I had been to my family for a traditional festive turkey dinner and was out picking up my dog when my cousin Gemma phoned.

“She was sobbing and I thought something had happened to her kids. But she then said the hospital had called and a heart and lungs were waiting for me and an ambulance was on the way to get me.

“I almost collapsed. I’d given up hope that the call would ever come.

“Before I knew it I was being airlifted to Freeman Hospital in Newcastle and I was looking down at the Christmas lights feeling scared and lucky that this had finally happened.

“I phoned everyone close to me to tell them I loved them one last time in case I didn’t make it.”

After the triple transplant in the early hours of Boxing Day, Kelly was unable to walk or talk and was kept on a ventilator for months. But the memories of playing with her niece Caitlin, nine, gave her the strength to carry on.

She says: “The summer before, we had gone to a beach and we had built sandcastles together. It was a really happy moment.

“She was born a year to the day my mum died and that’s maybe why I’ve always felt so connected to her.

“There were times where I felt like I couldn’t fight any more.

“But then Caitlin came into my head and I thought about how far I had come and how I couldn’t give up yet. I just imagined playing with her again and somehow I got through it.”

Kelly Watson with her brother Steven Watson, 34, just hours before the transplant call came
Kelly with her brother Steven, 34, just hours before the transplant call came

Kelly was finally allowed out of hospital on March 17, 2018. Caitlin “burst into tears” when she saw her aunt back at home.

Kelly has since found out her donor was a 54-year-old woman.

She says she has written countless letters to the woman’s family but has ripped each one up because she isn’t happy with what she has said.

“I just can’t find the right words,” she explains. “Nothing will ever be enough. They have given me a life.” This Christmas, three years after the transplants, there’s only one thing Kelly wants.

She says: “I have always wanted to be a mum. I wasn’t allowed to try for two years after the transplant. Who knows? Maybe I can get another Christmas miracle this year.”

Kelly also wants to set up a support group in Aberdeen for people who, like her, have received life-saving organs.

She adds: “Thanks to my organ donor I will get to spend Christmas with the people I love. I will never take that for granted. It really is the best present ever.”

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