Guests stream into her backyard, clad like characters from the comedy show Schitt's Creek. Fairy lights are strung under a marquee, a live band plays soft music and champagne flows freely.
It's a joyous occasion for Fawn Kruger from Fourways in Johannesburg. Fawn is one of only 22 patients in South Africa whose transplanted lungs have survived for a decade.
Ten years ago, Fawn (35) was barely clinging to life.
Cystic fibrosis, a disease that affects the lungs, had weakened her lung capacity so much that she was permanently hooked up to an oxygen tank.
She was pale, painfully thin and very weak – a lung transplant was her only hope of survival.
On 5 March 2013 she got the call that would change her life: a healthy set of lungs had been found and Fawn was prepped for surgery for a double lung transplant.
Every year, she marks the date with a big party for her "lungaversary", as she puts it.
Fawn’s father Mark Rogers was a dead ringer for Eugene Levy’s character Johnny Rose in Schitt’s Creek. The hit comedy show was the theme for her celebration. (PHOTO: Supplied)
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"We celebrate every year, and we do something different each year,” she tells YOU.
“We have a party because I'm alive and we reflect and remember my donor. While we’re celebrating another year of life, someone is mourning the death of their child so we're very grateful to the donor’s family for saying ‘yes’ because I wouldn’t be here today without them.”
Fawn and her husband, Travis Kruger, with some of their friends at the party. (PHOTO: Supplied)
Fawn was born in Zimbabwe and was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis when she was just a year old.
Most of her childhood was spent travelling to Johannesburg, where hospitals were better equipped to treat her condition.
As a teen she was admitted every three months for treatment, which included the use of a nebuliser to get oxygen to her lungs, physiotherapy and intravenous antibiotics.
“It was like having a constant bronchitis infection every day of your life – it was exhausting and painful,” she says.
She survived daily with a nebuliser before the life-saving transplant surgery. (PHOTO: Supplied)
In 2010 she relocated to South Africa because her lungs had deteriorated and the trips from Zimbabwe to Joburg were becoming too costly.
Within two years of moving here, her condition became so grave that she could barely get out of bed.
She depended on an oxygen tube to breathe, a feeding tube was surgically inserted into her stomach so that she could get enough nutrients. She also needed an insulin machine to help manage her diabetes.
Because the veins in her arms had collapsed due to all her IV treatment, she also had a portacath – a device implanted under the skin to assist with treatments such as the administering of intravenous fluids, blood transfusions and medication – placed under her neck.
“I'd be nauseous from all of the medication," she recalls. "I'd throw up and the pressure of vomiting gave me a bleeding nose and a headache, so every day was just the worst day of my life.”
Fawn was attached to a labyrinth of tubes and had a bandage covering her 64 staples after the surgery. (PHOTO: Supplied)
Fawn was just skin and bones and weighed about 40kgs.
“To get approved for a lung transplant, you have to be sick enough to qualify but also healthy enough to go through the procedure,” she says.
“I was so weak they didn’t want to list me – that’s why I had to have the stomach tube so that I could gain some weight. I worked really hard to get to 50kgs because that would get me onto the list.”
She was placed on the transplant list after she reached her goal weight and waited eight months for surgery.
The double lung transplant took eight hours to complete. A month later she had an additional procedure which caused complications and she was left with two punctured lungs. Fawn then spent three months in hospital where she was treated for a lung infection.
Fawn used a lung function machine to test her new lungs. She goes for this test every 3 months to monitor how well her lungs are performing. (PHOTO: Supplied)
When she was eventually discharged, her long road to recovery began.
She needed extensive physical therapy to help her learn how to walk again because being bedridden for so long had caused her muscles to atrophy.
“It was very frustrating because you’ve waited so long for these lungs and you think ‘yay! new life’. You picture yourself running on the beach, but it was nothing like that. It was a new journey, but it was a slow process,” she shares.
She takes 60 pills a day to prevent organ rejection. (PHOTO: Supplied)
It took a while for her to adjust her new body "because I was so used to my old lungs," she says.
"Before, I knew exactly what was happening in my body, I knew when I was about to get an infection, but I didn’t know these new lungs, so it was just strange.”
She also had to learn to trust her body.
“I remember laughing for the first time, I got a fright at how deep and long my laughs were because before the transplant I had an energy-saving laugh – the ‘haha', that’s funny laugh.”
Travis and Fawn have been married since 2020. (PHOTO: Supplied)
Her life has changed dramatically since her transplant. A few years ago she didn't think she'd ever leave hospital, let alone walk down the aisle to say her I do's.
Fawn married her best friend, Travis Kruger, in 2020 and runs a digital marketing agency business alongside him.
She's also the co-founder of an non-profit organisation called TELL which educates people about organ and tissue donation in SA.
She knows how important organ donors are.
“When they found my donor, I think I must only have had a couple of days to live," she says.
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To mark the 10-year anniversary of her double lung transplant, she asked her family and friends to donate to her Lungaversary Backabuddy campaign instead of buying her gifts.
She's already raised R30 000 of the R100 000 she'd like to collect to help TELL in their continued efforts to educate the public about organ donation.
Fawn is grateful to her donor for the life that she has now. (PHOTO: Supplied)
Fawn takes 60 tablets a day and visits specialists every three months for routine check-ups but she's finally breathing easier now.
She's incredibly grateful to her 13-year-old donor for giving her a new lease of life and has a message for anyone who finds themselves in the same situation.
“For those waiting for a transplant, don’t give up – it’s so difficult and giving up is seems so much easier but it really is worth the fight," she says.
"For those who've had a transplant, keep fighting. A transplant isn't a cure, some days are harder than others. But life is always worth fighting for.”
Extra sources: Backabuddy.com