Desperately ill Scots patient was planning funeral before miracle drug transformed her life

A desperately ill patient was planning her funeral before she was given a miracle drug.

Now she and her husband have a future with a baby son.

Gillian Docherty, 36, has battled cystic fibrosis all her life.

But four years ago, her lung function dropped to 38 per cent and, unable to climb stairs, she began to get her affairs in order.

Although Glasgow dentist Gillian kept active, her health declined and she made trips to the CF service at the QEUH.

She said: “Being aged 33 and not being able to climb up a flight of stairs is not a position anyone would want to be in.

“I couldn’t even go to the cinema. People would complain about my coughing. I was severely underweight, constantly exhausted and just existing.”

The average lifespan for a CF patient was 30 and Gillian believed she was on borrowed time and could not have children.

She said: “I’d never have been well enough to sustain a pregnancy. I was fighting illness all the time and knew, even if we did have a child, it was very likely I wouldn’t be there to raise them.

“It was very much a personal decision which we had taken. We didn’t plan for a future as we wouldn’t have much of one.”

But after the QEUH secured a place for her on the trial for Kaftrio – a drug which the Daily Record successfully campaigned to have made available on the NHS – her life was transformed.

Within two weeks of taking the drug, which reverses the main symptoms of CF, Gillian, 36, saw her lung function rise from 38 to 74 per cent. Today, her lung function is over 80 per cent and continues to improve.

The recovery allowed her and husband Andy, 35, to have baby Frederick four months ago.

Before Kaftrio, Gillian was taking upwards of 70 pills daily and was regularly admitted to the QEUH to manage increasing infections and CF-related issues.

But within just three hours of her first dose, Gillian could feel it working. She said: “It was utterly mind-blowing.

“That first night, I went to sleep and woke up seven hours later – something that hadn’t happened for years. Midnight coughing fits and waking up with chest pain were the norm.

Gillian has battled cystic fibrosis all her life

“That first morning I slept through the night. Andy and I just woke up and looked at each other, lost for words at how effective the drug was.”

As well as having Frederick, Gillian continues to build back strength and had a dream trip to Australia pre-pandemic.

She added: “I want to thank all of the staff who’ve helped me manage my condition over the years. The CF multidisciplinary team have become like family and have always been an advocate for me throughout my treatment.”

The QEUH provides the national CF service for patients.

Since Kaftrio was approved, more than 250 patients are now experiencing its benefits.

Dr Gordon Magregor, consultant physician at the QEUH and one of the team looking after Gillian, said: “CF care within the QEUH and Kaftrio has been a game-changer in treating patients for whom it is clinically appropriate.

“It helps keep them out of the hospital and enables them to live pretty normal lives, albeit they will always need a level of care from staff.

“It’s fantastic to see the impact that it’s had on Gillian, who has gone from rapid deterioration and an uncertain future to having a family and bright days and years ahead.”

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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