The Christmas wedding the bride never thought she would live to enjoy
The bells rang out for a Christmas wedding last weekend on a day the bride thought she may never see.
Double lung transplant patient Pippa Kent feared several times that she would not survive long enough to walk down the aisle.
But on Saturday (Dec 21) she was joined by family and friends to celebrate the new life she has been granted – and the love of the man who has helped her through her ordeal.
Pippa, from Bourn, was born with cystic fibrosis, a genetic disease which affects the lungs, digestive system and other organs, and she became gravely ill in her late 20s. She was put on a transplant list and received the call that there was a donor in April 2017.
She said: “It’s amazing to be able to celebrate with all the people who not only are really close friends but were also really supportive through a really tough and scary time.”
The 30-year-old said ‘I do’ to her husband, Harry Erskine, at the Church of St Mary and St Helena in Bourn and then enjoyed a marquee reception at Lattenbury Hill. But knows she has been incredibly lucky.
Pippa said: “Both Harry and I wanted to enjoy dating and enjoy normal things and we are lucky that after my transplant I have been able to do that. Getting married is an exciting next step and something that potentially I thought wasn’t on the cards a few years ago. There were points where I thought I wouldn’t be alive to get married.
“Some people really struggle with dating and illness. I think because I hadn’t been so overtly ill before my transplant I had been in relationships before and I wasn’t scared of dating. I never thought because of my cystic fibrosis that nobody would want to love me or marry me, although I knew it would take a certain person, because some people aren’t strong enough to deal with that. The reality is I was probably more scared at points that I wouldn’t live to get married.”
But she found happiness four years ago when she met Harry, who works at JP Morgan, through a friend.
Pippa explained: “We had only been together for about a year and a half when I started getting ill. He was a friend of a friend so he didn’t know about my cystic fibrosis when we first met but at the time I was quite well and working full time.”
However, when Pippa’s health took a downward turn their lives quickly changed.
She said: “It meant instead of meeting my parents for the first few times in restaurants or casual environments, it was in hospital rooms while I was pretty unwell in a hospital bed. So it was a difficult way to start a relationship but also showed how seriously we took each other and has meant, after that, we were pretty ready to do the next step.
“So after my transplant we moved in together quite quickly and we have been engaged since August last year.”
Fearing that she may become a burden to Harry, Pippa did offer him every opportunity to walk away. Instead, their partnership ended up being stronger than ever.
She says: “There were times when I said we don’t have to carry on, which was completely natural to say. I don’t remember if I particularly meant it when I said it – I think it’s something you feel you should say but don’t want to. But he never, ever wavered on our relationship and he was always ready to be there and hang out with me in hospital rooms when I was ill and he was there through my recovery.”
Pippa suffered from post-transplant lymphoproliferative disorder as a result of immunosuppression. This led to lymphoma, a type of cancer. She is now clear of the illness.
“I think lots of people, with good reason, might run away quite quickly from someone who said they had cystic fibrosis and then said they needed a transplant and then had cancer and we went through all of that. It has meant we are hopefully incredibly strong and we are excited to celebrate that,” she said.
“It wasn’t always that easy once I had had my transplant at Papworth Hospital and he was living in London. It meant lots of travel because we were not engaged or married, so he had no official right to leave or holiday. He was very lucky that his boss allowed him to be quite flexible, which we were very grateful for.”
Pippa underwent the transplant at Papworth two years ago after spending months in hospital at Royal Brompton, unable to walk more than a few steps or breathe without an oxygen mask, following months of infections that battered her lungs.
Speaking ahead of her big day, she said: “I received the call just in time and at my wedding the first toast will be to my donor, who made it possible for me to be here.
“But I will also raise a toast to all the people who I know who didn’t live long enough for transplants for various reasons and I think that’s really important to remember that some people weren’t as lucky.
“I was incredibly lucky to get that call when I did. Sadly I know quite a few people, who I counted as friends, who didn’t get that call quickly enough and who aren’t with us today, so that will definitely be on my mind on the day.”
She has been in training for several months for a sponsored bike ride between the Royal Brompton and Royal Papworth hospitals in a bid to raise funds for the two places that saved her life. The ride will take place in April next year to mark the third anniversary of Pippa’s transplant and is about 70 miles, which she anticipates will be a tough challenge.
She said: “I have done a few 20 to 30-mile rides and we are going on a skiing holiday for our ‘mini-moon’, so although I’m not cycling that will still be a good bit of fitness training to build upon for the ride.
“I think for me the reality is if I had to get on and do the bike now I possibly could, but I don’t want it to be a deeply unpleasant experience.
“I want it to be something other people can get involved with and something that doesn’t put me off cycling for life! Next year I will bite the bullet and get over the two-hour mark and go from there. The training has made me much fitter, which is important for my health post-transplant too.
“As well as doing the bike ride, I have also become a patient governor at Papworth. I have found it really important to give something back while I can. With a transplant you don’t know how long you are going to be well for and I’m in a lucky situation where I can offer help, so while I can I’m going to make the most of it.”
Visit justgiving.com/crowdfunding /lungaversaryride to donate. Visit organdonation.nhs.uk to register your name on the organ donor register. From spring 2020, the law will change to an opt-out system.