Cystic fibrosis sufferer who planned to die at Dignitas suicide clinic changed her mind after hearing five words

A cystic fibrosis sufferer who was ready to die at the assisted suicide clinic Dignitas changed her mind after hearing five words.

Janka Penther, once a keen surfer, was housebound, barely able to walk and could only breathe through an oxygen tube.

When the chronic lung condition was at its worst, the 35-year-old was so poorly she told her family she wanted to travel to Switzerland to end her own life.

Janka said some days she “couldn’t face living” and even the prospect of future surgery felt hopeless.

But driven by a desire to catch one last wave, the brave restaurant worker battled against the odds.

And placed on the NHS donor waiting list, she eventually underwent a successful double lung transplant.

Describing the moment she found the strength to carry on, she said: “There was a little voice inside my head that would say: Maybe tomorrow will be better.”

Janka enrolled at the clinic when her lung condition was at its most severe (Photo: Cavendish Press (Manchester) Ltd)
Now she is making the most of every day (Photo: Cavendish Press)

Since the operation, Janka has competed in the ”Rat Race Dirty Weekend’’ event in which athletes have to negotiate 200 obstacles including water crossings, monkey bars, eight feet tall climbing walls and, giant slides in what is thought to be the world’s toughest assault course.

Now she is due to compete at the World Transplant Games in Malaga Spain, where she will be the only lung transplant patient in the 50m freestyle swimming event.

Miss Penther, who completed the assault course in eight hours, said: “There were times when I wanted to give up – but it was awesome to finish and one of the best days of my life. Unfortunately I’m still on borrowed time due to my illness – but I plan to make the most of it.”

The surfer said she desperately wanted to catch one last wave (Photo: Cavendish Press (Manchester) Ltd)

Miss Penther was born in Berlin to German parents Angi, 63, and Michael, 65. She was diagnosed with CF when she was a baby and her family had been warned by doctors she would not live to see her second birthday.

But she vowed to live as active a life as possible, playing her favourite sports at school, including basketball, and then taking up surfing when she moved to Cornwall as a teenager.

She said: ”At first I actually decided I didn’t want a transplant – I didn’t want to be that ill and so dependant on other people. And so, I talked to my dad about Dignitas.

“I became a member of Dignitas, paid my enrolment fee and also the annual membership fee. I spoke to everyone about it, and while my mum found it hard my dad said, ‘Yes, when the time comes, you can come to me and I’ll help’.

“There were three really bad winters. Firstly, I got swine flu, which had a really negative effect on my lung capacity.

“Then the next winter, at the start of 2012, I fell into a freezing cold river trying to rescue my dog and I couldn’t get out, ending up with pneumonia.

”It was like breathing through a straw that’s half covered. You have tight lungs, you feel sick and dizzy from lack of oxygen. You start to think, ‘If I walk somewhere, can I make it back?’

“And in the meantime my friends were off getting married and starting families.

”But I decided I wanted to live and to have a transplant – as a surfer, I made it my mission to catch one more wave.

”I did tell my dad, ‘I don’t know if I can do this – maybe we’re going to have to go to Switzerland anyway’. I was too ill to even sit in the garden. All I could think was, ‘If I don’t get these lungs, I’m suffering for nothing.’ There were days when I just couldn’t face living.

“But then a little voice inside my head would say: ‘Maybe, just maybe, tomorrow will be better.”

Janka’s first big run came one year after her transplant (Photo: Cavendish Press (Manchester) Ltd)

Miss Penther had the eight hour double transplant operation in April 2013 after being given the lungs of a woman who died aged 23.

Within 24 hours she was also out of the intensive care unit and breathing on her own.

The following month Miss Penther was going out with her family and in the ensuing weeks she was enjoying walks on the beach and barbecues with friends and by 2014 was rambling in the Scottish highlands and was surfing again.

Her first five 5km run came a year to the day after her transplant and she then booked herself onto the Rat Race Dirty Weekend assault course.

Janka took part in last month’s Rat Race Dirty Weekend (Photo: Cavendish Press)
Medical experts were confounded when she completed the 20 mile assault course (Photo: Cavendish Press)

She added: ”My consultant knew exactly what I was doing…and thought I was mad. But he knows what I’m like and didn’t try to stop me. When I run, and I take in a lungful of air, I think about my donor a lot.

“I thought about her a lot during the Rat Race event. I don’t know how she died, but all I know is that she was a young lady, aged 23. I shed a few tears during the race but crossing the finishing line was incredible, and came with such a sense of achievement.

”It is rare for a lung transplant patient to be able to run 20 miles. It’s just silly. I asked around, and I don’t know of anyone who’s ever done anything similar. I want to move the boundaries. I want to show other CF patients that you can overcome your difficulties.

“At 15, if I’d seen people like me now, I would not have considered suicide. But I didn’t have any idea of what life after transplant would be like.

“You can do so much – and I hope that people can see that. For me, running the Rat Race is about freedom and a love for life.

“For someone else it’s a walk down the hill. My message is this – grab life by the horns and dare to do things.”

Miss Penther is team manager of the Harefield Transplant Club, affectionately known as the Harefield Hamsters, who offer support for transplant patients and their families.

JON HARRIS

http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/cystic-fibrosis-sufferer-who-planned-10652270

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