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Helene Campbell still improving, positive after double lung transplant

TORONTO – Two years ago, Hélène Campbell was everywhere. Diagnosed with advanced idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis at age 20, she was considered a high risk patient, her lung function dipping to just 6 per cent before she finally received a double lung transplant at Toronto General Hospital in April, 2012.

Before that transplant, Campbell launched a popular online campaign to bring awareness to the need for organ donations. The campaign is credited with helping create a surge in registrations.

Before and after her transplant Campbell’s smile lit up the screen on local and national newscasts across Canada, and last February she crossed the border into the United States to get her boogie on with daytime talk show host Ellen DeGeneres. Through all this, she became Canada’s most popular spokesperson for organ donation, even being awarded a Diamond Jubilee medal for her efforts.

“I’m still here, I get to experience life,” Campbell told Global News from Ottawa during an interview Thursday.

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The glare from the cameras has dimmed a bit over the last year, but Campbell continues her campaigning and volunteer work to bring awareness to the cause, while at the same time continuing her recovery.

She still has to make yearly trips to Toronto to be monitored by doctors, but describes her condition today compared to two years ago as “day and night.” Once she passes the five year mark she’ll only have to check in every fifth year.

“I do know that I’m between 54 and 60 (per cent) right now” says Campbell about her current lung function.

“I can go up the stairs and do a little dance, sing a little bit.  It really comes down to the little things like being able to cook my family a meal and those are the things that I wasn’t able to do.”

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It’s that return to normalcy that Campbell cherishes and she moved into her own downtown Ottawa apartment earlier in November. But she’s also had to make some adjustments in life. She is once again holding down a part-time job at the Ottawa Hospital where she worked before her diagnosis, but in a different capacity.

“I used to work as a clerk with the dialysis unit, and now I work in accounting because I can’t be exposed to germs so they gave me the training.”

Speaking frankly, Campbell says there can be some tough days in recovery.

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“There are days when I’m not positive and I’m negative and it’s really hard…It’s not all easy, breezy.  I have had complications,” she says, but she chooses to focus on the good, not the bad.

“I can travel again…I was never going to be able to fly again.”

With her health on the upswing, Campbell finds herself particularly excited for February, when she gets to attend an event she and her family once thought she wouldn’t be around for; her sister’s wedding. For that, she expresses her gratitude to the family of the person who donated their lungs to her. It’s a group of people that, to this day, she still hasn’t met.

“It’s really hard for me to thank a hero that I will never meet. And it’s hard to face the reality that I depended on this individual’s loss for my personal gain, if that makes any sense. And I want to thank that family so much, because every year I celebrate my ‘lung-iversary.'”

She will celebrate her third “lung-iversary” next April.