Floreat sisters both undergo double lung transplants to fight cystic fibrosis

Sarah Quinn-Pagett and Fiona Drabble. The sisters have cystic fibrosis and have both undergone double lung transplants. Picture: Jessica Warriner.
Sarah Quinn-Pagett and Fiona Drabble. The sisters have cystic fibrosis and have both undergone double lung transplants. Picture: Jessica Warriner.

NEARLY 400 people in WA are affected by cystic fibrosis – including two Floreat sisters who have both undergone life-saving double lung transplants.

“I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy…” Sarah Quinn-Pagett (33) said of the disease.

“…But having each other is huge,” sister Fiona Drabble (39) finished.

It is stories like theirs Cystic Fibrosis WA (CFWA) is highlighting ahead of 65 Roses Day, their annual fundraiser for research and care for people living with cystic fibrosis.

There is currently no cure for the disease.

Sarah was diagnosed as a baby, while Fiona was officially diagnosed at 12.

“We sort of knew that whatever Sarah had, I had; I was being admitted to hospital anywhere from two to 10 times a year,” Fiona said.

The pair attended Perth Modern School; Sarah said this enabled the sisters to be close to Princess Margaret Hospital to attend classes in between treatment.

Her health took a turn for the worse in Year 12, and she moved to Melbourne for a potential lung transplant.

“At the time, it wasn’t done here, so Mum and I moved while Dad and Fiona stayed here,” she said.

Fiona said her sister was told that any time she went to sleep, she may not wake up.

One morning, she got a call from her frail sister to say lungs had become available; they were not the right blood group nor were they in good condition, and there was a 70 per cent chance it would not be successful.

“I got on the first plane to Melbourne and cried all the way,” she said.

But Sarah beat the odds.

“When you come close to being dead, you wonder if you’re dead or alive. It was surreal to look down and see my bright pink fingers, they were usually a dark purple,” she said.

“I walked home from hospital two weeks later. To walk without oxygen [assistance] is amazing, to be free.”

She is now a teacher at Newman College, raising a two-year-old son with her husband.

Sister Fiona had her double lung transplant 12 months ago; she had moved back from Geraldton with her son and husband, where they had been living for six years, in order to go on the transplant list.

“I came out of hospital on a Friday, I was still sick. On Monday morning I rang Sarah, I said ‘something’s changed, I’ve taken a real step back’,” she said.

“That evening we were having dinner around 7pm. The phone rang, then my husband’s phone rang. It was No Caller ID, which is the hospital, and our hearts were beating. Sure enough, there were lungs.”

After a tough six months with complications, Fiona is now able to pick up her four-year-old son, walk without a second thought and is studying secondary teaching at university.

She said CFWA had been a huge part of her and Sarah’s lives.

“We’ve been seeing physios and homecare workers for 30 years,” she said.

“So much time and effort goes into maintaining CF, whether you’re healthy or not, and CFWA takes some of that burden off.”

The 65 Roses Day Fundraiser takes place on Friday, May 25; hundreds of volunteers will be selling roses at $5 a stem.

For more information, visit cfwa.org.au/65roses.

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