My name is Borislava and I’m from Sofia, Bulgaria. I’m currently based in Brussels, Belgium and I’m working at the European Patients’ Forum (EPF) as a Youth Strategy Assistant, an experience that is giving me the chance to strengthen my leadership and advocacy capacity.
I’m also the EPF Youth Group President. We are a group of motivated young patient advocates, who communicate the needs and expectations of young patient representatives to EPF and their members. We are very passionate about presenting the issues and complications, which occur in the day-to-day life of young patients with chronic conditions in an interactive, interesting and understandable way.
I’m a two-time kidney transplanted patient and I’ve been battling with my chronic condition my whole life. I received my first kidney transplantation back in 2003, in Pakistan. My second one was in February 2018, where my donor became my grandmother, Nedka, aged 66. We are both living a fulfilling and healthy life right now and I can’t express how thankful I am to have received a (now) third chance in life! Organ donation is the biggest gift anybody can ever offer. It is also the reason that myself and many others are still alive today.
After my second kidney transplantation I needed a long time to recover and return to my full capacity. Organ transplantation is an extremely serious and life-saving procedure, which requires the absolute full attention and care from the patient. I had to make many changes to my lifestyle, but sadly my health condition is not entirely dependent on the way I take care of myself: it also depends on other people’s life choices.
Vaccination is a very good example of this. The strong immunosuppressive medication that I will be taking for the rest of my life is making it impossible for me to have some key vaccines. This is not only the case for organ-transplanted patients but also for people dealing with immunodeficiency problems and many other health conditions. What this means is that we are at a very high risk of catching any infection as well as any easily transmitted contagious diseases. In the case of vaccine-preventable diseases, people like me need to count on the “herd immunity”. In other words, the more people vaccinated, the safer we are.
I have received many different reactions and feedback on this issue. For example, my current colleagues at EPF made a huge effort, which I highly appreciate. The rest of the staff will get the flu vaccine this winter, just to keep me safe (and themselves, of course). My family and friends are very supportive as well, although I come from a country where it is hard to keep track of the vaccines you have and don’t have, because of the way patient files are kept. I sincerely hope that soon there will be a way for patient files to be digitally accessible, with the full patient medical history.
I’m incredibly lucky that my work environment gives me the opportunity to advocate for vaccination and initiate the discussion with people who are not entirely convinced that vaccination is the best way to go. Although I’m still struggling to find the right way to approach hesitant people around me, I’m getting more and more involved in the pro-vaccinаtion community and doing my best to raise awareness about the issues me and many more chronic patients are facing because of this controversy.
I am a member of the Youth Coalition For Prevention and Vaccination. We will very soon be launching a Manifesto at the European Parliament, which will be presented to the newly elected MEPs and Commissioners. The Manifesto will focus on key topics such as life-course approaches to vaccination, the role of healthcare professionals, and the importance of education on health promotion.
Finally, I would like to remind all of us that the good change we want to see in this world starts with ourselves. Nowadays we can easily access scientifically proven and accurate information, which means that it is our choice to stay informed. I want to invite all readers to become more informed on issues such as organ donation, vaccination and healthcare in general, because this concerns all of us!