New Brunswick

N.B. woman graduates university after undergoing second double-lung transplant

When Elspeth Arbow found out she needed a second double-lung transplant weeks before she was supposed to start cinema studies at the University of Toronto, she was in disbelief. Six years later, she is a university graduate.

'Everyone is as proud of me as I am of myself … It's kind of like a communal victory, almost'

Elspeth Arbow was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis when she was a baby. She received her first double-lung transplant when she was 13. (Lisa Lightbourn)

When Elspeth Arbow found out she needed a second double-lung transplant weeks before she was supposed to start cinema studies at the University of Toronto, she was in disbelief.

She was 17 at the time.

"I couldn't even comprehend that, because I was healthy and I had plans for the future and everything and naturally, being sick and needing a second transplant was not part of that," Arbow said.  

The 23-year-old was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis when she was a baby. She received her first double-lung transplant when she was 13.

Now, she's graduated from university with an honours degree in cinema studies, after having to undergo the second procedure last March.

"Everyone is as proud of me as I am of myself … It's kind of like a communal victory, almost."

Cystic fibrosis is a fatal genetic disease that affects the digestive system and lungs. It has no cure.

Hundreds of children and adults die each year waiting for a transplant.

Arbow graduated from the University of Toronto with a degree in cinema studies on June 11. (Lisa Lightbourn)

Although Arbow was told she'd need a second double-lung transplant right before she was set to start university, she put off the procedure for four years.

She continued with her studies and extracurricular activities, which involved student council, residence council and the cinema studies student council. She described her health as a full-time job, along with everything else she was doing.

Persistent cough, shortness of breath and chest infections are some of the symptoms of cystic fibrosis.

"Every single doctor's appointment, they were like, 'OK, well, tell us when you want to list for surgery and the waiting will begin and the physio and everything.' And I was like, 'No, I'm fine, I'm fine,'" Arbow said. "It took a long time for me to be like, 'Maybe I'm not fine now.'"

Arbow was finally placed on the Canadian lung transplant list. She received a transplant in late March last year.

As she walked across the graduation stage earlier this month, she was greeted with applause from friends, family and professors — everyone who had watched the resilient and persistent woman suffer, recover and grow over the last six years.

"I just keep smiling to myself," said Arbow about her graduation.

Following graduation, Arbow is working as an intern with the Toronto International Film Festival. (Lisa Lightbourn)

"Everyone kind of knows what I've been through to get to this point. I mean, no one will ever understand what it was all like, but people can see the benchmarks of what happened and getting to graduate."

Following graduation, Arbow is working as an intern with the Toronto International Film Festival. She is part of an outreach program that shows films in more than 150 communities across Canada on a year-round basis.

When Arbow found out she got the job, she said it felt like a dream come true.

"It was like something of a trophy to me, to be like, 'Yeah, I got through that university experience and I ended up with a job in the end.'"

About the Author

Sarah Morin

Reporter

Sarah Morin is a reporter with CBC New Brunswick based in Fredericton. Story tip? sarah.morin@cbc.ca

With files from Sarah Trainor

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