Megan's Story

Megan McLoughlin is the Founder and Director of the Herd of Hope. Megan is a mother of two kids under 5, she is tough, resilient, compassionate, inspirational and has been gifted with a great sense of humour. She is also legally blind, a double transplant recipient and is being treated for two forms of cancer.

Born with only one kidney Megan was diagnosed with Type I diabetes at the age of 8, Megan quickly discovered an inner toughness. “Being a young kid that rode horses, played sport and being raised on a farm, it was a bit of a shock. All of a sudden they are telling me I can’t do anything”. Don’t ever tell Megan she can’t do something, she’ll prove you wrong.

Aged 13, Megan rode her horses from Melrose in the Flinders Ranges where her family were living to Adelaide to raise awareness for Juvenile Diabetes. “We raised $25,000 and a lot of awareness. I road along King William Street, down Sir Donald Bradman Drive to the Diabetes Centre”. That was an unbelievable amount of money (and awareness) raised back then well before the Go Fund Me and social media platforms that exist today.

In her late 20’s, a keen horsewoman, Megan excelled at barrel racing and went on to win seven state titles, five national titles and a scholarship to a university in Georgia, America to compete as part of the college’s horse team. “I studied animal science, so pre-vet, large animal husbandry. I returned home and was employed by an animal health company, I was living in Sydney and loving my life!”

Work led Megan back to South Australia until one day, she ended up in hospital after getting “a bit of a headache”. They found Diabetes had damaged her eyes and she needed surgery to remove some blood vessels that had formed. “They over lasered her eyes and within three days, she was legally blind. At the age of 26, Megan was left with five per cent of vision in her left eye and three percent in her right eye, she no peripheral vision or depth perception. You would not know when meeting Megan for the first or perhaps even the second time that she is legally blind.

About three months later, Megan went into renal failure, she went from 66 percent of function to 23 percent in three months, then when they realised her function was at 7 percent it was a Friday afternoon and they said she wouldn’t last the weekend so they put a central line straight into her artery into her heart and accidently nicked a vein. Megan laughs at the scenario, saying “she must have had Dr. Seuss”, but the “accident” was actually a blessing. From the mishap Megan lost three litres of blood but it saved her life because she was so toxic.”

Now on dialysis, Megan returned to Sydney because she feared missing the flight for the transplant she so urgently needed. In November, 2010 the doctors told Megan “you need to get your affairs in order because you won’t’ be seeing Christmas this year.” Megan left that appointment and thought well, hope is stronger than fear and 0.01 percent is better than nothing. It was probably not the right attitude to have, it’s not the reality. But it’s what got her through.” That is the exact attitude that gets Megan through the many challenges she has faced in her life. “Hope is stronger than fear.”

That much awaited phone call from the transplant hospital did come shortly after. Megan was at home and being legally blind, her phone tells her who’s ringing and it started chanting “Sydney Kidney Doctor”. Megan answered thinking the worst that there was something wrong with her blood work but it was her transplant co-ordinator.

It’s really, really difficult to receive that call because Megan explains “you go oh, my life’s been saved and then you realise somewhere out there is a family who has just had their heartbroken. They’ve just had to say goodbye and in that process, they have saved someone else’s life (probably more than one person). That is the most selfless act. These families are grieving the loss of their loved one, their world turned upside down and they are thinking of other people? That’s amazing, just amazing.”

Megan had a new kidney and pancreas and whilst she struggled through what can only be describe as an emotional roller coaster, she was a survivor. Megan is not afraid to say she has survivor guilt, Megan admits to shedding “buckets of tears” over her donor and their family who gave her the gift of life.

“People think I’m strong, but I don’t see it as strength,” Megan says.

Now it was time to embrace her second chance at life. Being so sick for so long meant Megan’s love life was non-existent, so she asked a friend to get her a date. Megan said “I was that desperate, I was passed this bloke Mark’s email address. We arranged to catch up for coffee one Sunday afternoon, funny that’s the Mark I married!” Megan laughs.

“The worst thing is it wasn’t until our third date that I told him I was legally blind. I had stepped in something after we had left a restaurant, he goes didn’t you see that? Well, funny story! He asked do you see the sign up there? I go nup. The pole? Not really. He’s pointing to all these things. He’s gone, do you see me? I’ve said sometimes and he just stood there, reached forward and grabbed my hand and that was it”. “We argue who was more desperate because he’s eight years older than me or he married the blind, transplant recipient!” See what we mean about the sense of humour?

Married at Collingrove Homestead in the Barossa, Megan and Mark now reside in Tanunda. Megan became the first double transplant recipient in South Australia to have a baby and 1 of only 64 in the world to give birth after a double transplant. “I had Sam at 36 weeks and one day. He was the most successful baby born in the world to a double transplant recipient because of his gestational period.” Baby daughter, Ella entered the world soon after and Megan and Mark couldn’t be happier with little family.

“As a result of her journey, Megan has become a strong advocate for rural and regional Australians. She has seen a huge gap in the health services provided and in true form Megan set out to do something about it.

Megan founded the charity “Herd of Hope” and decided to take 40 Poll Hereford cattle that travelled from Undoolya Station, in the Northern Territory to the sands of iconic Bondi Beach, representative of a transplant recipient journey travelling from the bush to the city for their transplant.

Bush to Bondi Event was created to raise awareness for organ and tissue donation and to encourage Australians to register as organ donors and to have the discussion about their wishes with their families.

Megan also wanted to highlight the pressing need for improved health care services for regional and rural Australians. Megan is far from fitting into a box and this was a unique senario “cows on a beach in Sydney”, was perfect, it focussed the entire nation’s attention on the serious issues surrounding organ donation.

The highly successful event was a massive undertaking and brought volunteers, supporters, organ donor families and transplant recipients from all walks of life together on the beach that day for a common cause which, much to Megan’s surprise, led her to being nominated and then named 2019 South Australian, Local Hero in the Australian of the Year Awards.

”Since Bondi the charity has raised funds to support donor families and organ recipients through a range of programmes.

Herd of Hope have funded a study with the University of South Australia under the guidance of Prof Ian Olver and Dr Kate Gunn, with results telling us, not only do rural and regional people need improved health services but they want and need peer support. Someone to talk to, someone who understands exactly what they are going through.

Scott’s Saving Grace – assistance with accommodation when travelling from the bush to the city at short notice.

Hope Outback- kids camps. In a world first August 2019 Herd of Hope held Hope Outback at Undoolya Station Alice Spring, Norther Territory – a camp for kids who had lost a loved one who then became an organ donor. They slept under the stars, cooked on a camp fire, rode horses, climbed rocks and bonded with other kids who had been through a similar experience.

Megan is a master of “bringing the herd together- not just cattle in the paddock, but also like-minded people with a passion for their communities and most recently Day in the Paddock initiative yet another example of Megan generating enthusiasm within her community to provide support for good mental health.
The charity also created the Tree of Hope, a beautiful rustic tribute where donor families can have an engraved leaf placed on the tree in honour of their loved one who passed away and went on to become an organ donor. This tree is on display in hospitals and is making its way around Australia.

Megan says “Have fun and laugh at yourself. I’m right where I am supposed to be, even though my road is a bit rocky sometimes. Sure, I take about 47 tablets a day, but I’d take 700 if it means I’m still here!”

Hope is stronger than fear.