A rider who returned to eventing following a double lung transplant has fulfilled her ambition to compete at the Mitsubishi Motors Cup at Badminton.
Morwenna Foster and her nine-year-old mare Dash Of Lime (“Maisie”), who she has produced from a youngster, completed their BE100 section at the grassroots eventing championships last week.
The 34-year-old Truro rider has made a remarkable recovery after undergoing transplant surgery five years ago at London’s Harefield hospital.
The qualified vet nurse was forced to give up her job when cystic fibrosis caused her lung function to deteriorate and she was put on the transplant list in November 2012.
“I was trying to ride for as long as I could, but in the last year before surgery I really struggled, “ she recalled. “I was on oxygen, I had to give up work, I was going for the odd hack but it was a real effort. Towards the last six months I was more or less housebound apart from the odd dog walk.”
While Morwenna was a fit and sporty child up until her early teens, by her late teens the congenital illness — which causes sufferers to experience a build up of thick mucus in the lungs and other organs — saw her experience an increasing number of infections.
“At school I never felt the need to tell anyone about it as it wasn’t obvious and I dealt with it, but by my late teens the infections became more and more frequent. Eventually I had lungs collapse two years in a row and that’s when the doctors decided I needed a transplant,” she explained.
After waiting just a few months — and enduring the drama of a couple of dashes up to London that proved to be false alarms — Morwenna received her new lungs in March 2013.
The surgery, intensive care and eight-week spell in hospital took their toll and she faced a “daunting” physical and psychological journey back to health.
“Although I’ve always had cystic fibrosis and in the back of my mind I knew I might always need a transplant, it came as quite a shock that I needed one before I was 30,” she said. “I’d been focussing on keeping going and it never sunk in how ill I was – a lung transplant is serious stuff and it all just hit me.
“I’d also deteriorated quite a lot physically beforehand — the new lungs were good from the start, but I had to get my body back doing things like eating properly again.
“I was in hospital for eight weeks after the surgery and after eight weeks mostly in a bed you shrivel up to nothing. It was like starting all over again and it took probably about a year to get up to a reasonable level of fitness.”
Horses played a big part in Morwenna’s recovery and within six weeks of leaving hospital she’d climbed back onboard. Six months later she took her first “very wobbly” trip round a hunter trial on her mother’s horse.
After having to give up her job as a vet nurse because of the risk of infection — her immune system is repressed because of the anti-rejection drugs she takes — she also retrained as an equine sports massage therapist.
“I plugged away, but it was not until the following year that I was strong enough to event,” she said.
Morwenna’s health has continued to recover — while her cross-country rounds used to involve several stops to catch her breath: “I used to joke to my mum that she’d need to be at the finish line with an ambulance in case I needed oxygen!”— her lung function has improved every year since surgery.
“It’s still hard work and for a few days after an event I feel washed out, but at least now I can be up there with the rest,” she said, adding that her doctors had been understanding of her equestrian ambitions.
“To be honest I’ve always said I am riding and that’s it! I’ve always had ponies and cats and dogs, which the doctor always said wasn’t helpful, but I think they’ve come to accept that’s what I want,” she said. “They did get a bit annoyed when I ended up in A&E two or three years ago with a broken hip when I fell off — I then went back in with concussion a few months later when I wasn’t even supposed to be riding!
“I don’t know how long I’ve got,” she added. “You never know when you might pick up a nasty infection or have a rejection — so I always think do as much as you can when you can.”
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The Mitsubishi Motors Cup is an event that a huge number of riders jumping 90-100cm dream of competing at. Here
Morwenna — who recently secured sponsorship from Woof Wear — is now hoping to qualify for the Mitsubishi Motors Cup at Badminton again after admitting to being a bit “star struck and overwhelmed” this time around.
“I would love to do a one-star — I did a few novices last year and I’d love to get back up to that level. I also have a little youngster I’m bringing on who is only five and I would love to go back to Badminton again and be more competitive,” she said.
She added that she would encourage everyone to sign up to the organ donor register.
“There aren’t many transplant horsey people out there so anyone I can reach and show the good side of organ donation is a bonus. I’ve had so much life during the past five years I wouldn’t have had without my transplant.”
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This week’s edition (10 May) features our full report from Badminton, including in-depth analysis, expert comment, pictures and more. Plus, read our feature on the options for retiring your horse and in this week’s vet clinic we look into the challenges of equine surgery