MARLBOROUGH mum Gillian Hackney, who suffers from a rare degenerative genetic lung condition, has appealed for the gift of life.

She is urging everyone to carry an organ donor card to help those like herself whose lives depend on a transplant.

Every time the phone rings at her home in College Fields, Mrs Hackney hopes it is to tell her that a pair of donor lungs has become available.

Seven times 41-year-old Mrs Hackney has had false alarm calls and raced to Harefield Hospital near Heathrow Airport only to be told the donor organs were not suitable.

Mrs Hackney hopes desperately that the eighth call will come soon and the lungs that have become available match her tissue and blood type.

Mrs Hackney, her husband Greg and their three children, Chantal, 21, Candice, 13, and son Gareth, 11, know she is in a race against time.

Her own lungs are being destroyed by a rare genetic condition known as Alpha 1 Antitrypsin Deficiency which sufferers refer to as A1TD, or simply Alpha1.

Day and night, Mrs Hackney is connected by a tube to tanks containing pure oxygen that provide her ailing lungs with enough of the life-giving gas to keep her alive.

Even bursts of conversation leave her gasping and for Mrs Hackney a climb to the top of the stairs at her home is the equivalent of climbing a mountain for most people. The family has had to get a stair lift installed.

Walking from her front door just a few paces to her car is as energy-sapping for Mrs Hackney as a marathon run for a fit person.

She has a full time carer to help her run the home and look after her husband and two youngest children. Their elder daughter lives in Somerset.

Her condition is a chronic form of emphysema, the lung disease characterised by the destruction of the microscopic air sacs and usually caused by a lifetime of exposure to polluted atmosphere or heavy smoking.

But Alpha1 has nothing to do with environment or dirty air; it is caused by the absence of the protein antitrypsin.

The absence of this vital protein allows the body's own defence system to attack and slowly destroy the lungs.

The condition usually manifests itself between the ages of 30 and 40 and gets progressively worse. Mrs Hackney said: "It causes your lungs to literally kill themselves off by self destruction."

She has to take a cocktail of 22 different tablets each day but they do little, she said, to halt the damage being done to her lungs.

Mrs Hackney was brought up in the pure air of South Africa where she lived until six years ago.

The family moved to England and lived in Ramsbury before settling in Marlborough four years ago.

Mrs Hackney did clerical work and was fit and active enjoying horse riding and swimming.

Increasing breathlessness was thought to be some form of asthma until tests showed that she was suffering from A1TD, a condition caused by a genetic mis-match between her parents.

Mrs Hackney has spoken out about her condition this week because it is National Organ Donor Week and she is imploring everyone to agree to be an organ donor in the event of their untimely death.

She hopes her story will encourage people to carry a donor card at least or, preferably, fill out a living will.

Even if people have signed a donor card their next of kin could still refuse to allow their organs to be used for transplants. With a living will the wishes of the individual cannot be overridden by relatives.

Mrs Hackney said: "I am one of the many recipients on the waiting list, please make Organ Donor Week count for something by at least making a noise about it.

"There is a serious shortage of good healthy donors and a vast amount of seriously ill people needing the gift of life."

To press home her plea she has written a touching verse, an excerpt of which reads:

"You may have seen me around town

You may even know my name

But without a lung transplant

Life is a numbers game.

So please help me and many more

To have a chance to life.

Sign a donor card today

It's the best gift you can give"

Mrs Hackney, who has been waiting for a transplant for two years, said her greatest wish is to able to get well enough to go horse riding again and teach her children what she calls the proper way to swim.

She said: "Although there are no guarantees that it will improve my life, there are no other medical options available."

Mrs Hackney has two brothers and one sister but tests have proved they will not develop the condition themselves although they are carriers and could pass it on to their children.

She helps run a support group for Alpha 1 sufferers, which has its own website:

Organ donor cards are available from doctors' surgeries or from the Gazette office in Kingsbury Street, Marlborough.