Celebrating a 50th birthday may not seem so remarkable these days but for Tracey Roberts and her family it is nothing short of a miracle – the mother of two was given the gift of life when she received a new pancreas and kidney in 2004.
Born six weeks early at Gunnedah hospital to Cathy and Fred Roberts, Tracey arrived in the world a tiny scrap of humanity, with a fighting spirit.
The age-old proverb “it takes a village to raise a child” could easily describe Tracey’s life from the time she came home from hospital, with her Mum hospitalised for surgery and her Nan, the late Beryl Campbell, taking care of her until her mother recovered.
Tracey as a toddler living a normal life surrounded by a loving extended family.
Tracey enjoyed a happy childhood growing up in Curlewis, with her sisters Cindy and Karen and brother Daniel. She played netball and tennis and was also keen on horse riding and swimming. She went to school at St Xavier’s and St Mary’s College and was working as a checkout operator at Woolworths when she was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at the age of 16.
Tracey’s general health had been ‘indifferent’ for some months before but she was devastated to receive the diagnosis as she had her whole life ahead of her and found it very hard to accept.
Doctors acted quickly, however, and Tracey spent two weeks in Newcastle at a diabetic clinic with her parents, learning how to control the disease through diet, exercise and insulin.
During a later visit to Sydney, Tracey saw a sign advertising a ‘position vacant’ outside Virgin Hair Salon in Chatswood and on an impulse she decided to apply. After a short interview and the knowledge that the owners “loved hiring country kids” she became an apprentice hairdresser and soon developed a great rapport with the salon’s clients.
Five years later after juggling insulin injections, sugar testing and a diabetic diet she came home as her health had started to deteriorate. She worked at Good Tymz Hair Studio for a while before returning to Sydney to work at Stranz in St Leonard’s.
In December 1999, Tracey came home for good, after the complications that often go with diabetes were aggravated by long hours standing and fluctuating sugar levels. She also battled with ongoing kidney infections and eye problems.
It was a rather depressing outlook for the young woman who just wanted to live a normal life. The future seemed bleak but then Jason Rootes came into her life and together they raised two children Abby and Ossie, who thankfully have no signs of the disease that has plagued their mother.
Although her pregnancies were complicated, Tracey’s family means the world to her and the support of her “village” has carried her through.
Tracey returned to hairdressing part-time when Abby was 12 months old but diabetic complications increased with diabetic comas and urinary tract infections and a chronically infected toe – the love and support of her family and dedicated diabetic specialists kept her going but it looked increasingly like she would need a transplant.
In 2004, when Tracey was 31 and Abby was two years old, she was on peritoneal home dialysis and on the waiting list for a transplant. She had been assessed by doctors at Westmead Hospital and because of her A negative blood group, she was told that she would probably have a transplant inside a year.
The whole family had gathered for her brother Dan’s wedding to Karen Andrews at Easter that year when the call came from Westmead’s transplant co-ordinator Paul Robertson at 9:40pm on Tuesday, April 14 – just three days after the wedding. Tracey’s “village” immediately swung into action and her sister Karen took over the care of Abby. Tracey went into surgery at 12:40pm and after three hours and 45 minutes, she had a new kidney and pancreas. Although so grateful for her life-saving gift, Tracey’s family was also thinking about the donor and the pain and loss felt by the family.
On Wednesday, May 26, 2004, Tracey returned home to a new life high in her praise for the transplant team at Westmead but also calling for more people to sign up for organ donation – one person donating their organs can save or improve the lives of up to 10 people.
Twelve years later Tracey’s body began to reject her donated organs and she again went on home dialysis and was placed on the waiting list for a new kidney and pancreas.
In November 2017 a kidney from an older person became available but the pancreas was not suitable so doctors removed the islets for transplant into Tracey’s liver with the goal of giving her body enough healthy islets to make insulin.
Although she still has ongoing problems with her eyes and has had three toes and part of her left foot removed due to constant infection, Tracey is grateful for her life – but the donor family is never far from her thoughts.
On March 12, Tracey celebrated her 50th birthday at her parents’ home in Curlewis surrounded by family and friends who have stood by her year after year as part of her “village”.
Cathy Roberts spoke about the many times they had gone to bed at night thinking about how they were going to prepare for a funeral – such was the finely balanced hover between life and death on many occasions.
Organ and tissue donation saves many lives every year. About 1800 Australians are on a waiting list for a transplant and 14,000 additional people on dialysis – some of whom may need a kidney transplant.
Organ, eye and tissue donation saves lives, restores health and improves the quality of life for thousands of people each year but only two per cent of people who die in hospital each year can be considered for organ donation. Those who register for organ donation should ensure that their family knows their wishes.
To find out more or to register for organ donation visit: donatelife.gov.auTo order photos from this page click here