Hit-and-run victim cycles to remarkable recovery

Hit-and-run victim cycles to remarkable recovery

For more than a decade, Anne Cahill Lambert has been unable to smell Canberra's distinctive change of seasons – until Saturday.

About 2pm she climbed on her bike and set off without her oxygen pack for a 20-kilometre cycle around Lake Ginninderra in the unseasonal warmth.

Anne Cahill Lambert prepares to go for a ride without carrying oxygen.

Anne Cahill Lambert prepares to go for a ride without carrying oxygen.Credit:Jeff Chan

Diagnosed 11 years ago with a lung disease, fibrosing alveolitis, the 58-year-old was not expected to live beyond 50. She fought that prognosis with cycling, until she was knocked from her bike in January.

Ms Cahill Lambert eventually got back on her bike. A little shaky at first, she has regained her momentum. Last week her specialist at Melbourne's Alfred Hospital said he had never seen such a remarkable turnaround. Her transfer of oxygen in her blood stream had lifted from 40 per cent to 80 per cent (non-sufferers have a 100 per cent transfer).


On her bike without oxygen on Saturday, she found the going hard but exhilarating.

''I actually smelt things, because normally I have a cannula in my nose and can't smell,'' Ms Cahill Lambert said.

''I smelt an old autumn. You might think I'm stupid, but each season in Canberra looks and smells different. Of course I have been able to see the difference, but not smell the difference. I can't put my finger on what it is about autumn, but I just smelt the leaves.''

She even savoured the pong around the lake's edge, and stopped repeatedly to take photographs. ''I was breathing and smiling all the way, looking stupid.''

And her bike felt lighter without her portable oxygen machine strapped to it.

''I used to worry about batteries being charged, was it going to last the distance? At Easter I went down to Wangaratta and rode my bike from Beechworth to Wangaratta and worried if I had enough battery power to do that. There's all that worry I don't have any more.''

Ms Cahill Lambert says her oxygen-free health could be from lots of cycling, a positive attitude, prayers from her extended Catholic family, or a combination of all three.

''I know a lot of people die in bed, and I am never going to be caught in that trap. I get out of bed everyday. I avoid sick people. I can pick a cold from 40 paces.''

She feels for people awaiting a lung transplant who have to carry oxygen with them, as she's been in that predicament herself.

Two weeks ago a woman who failed to stop after knocking Ms Cahill Lambert off her bike in January was convicted and fined $400 and suspended from driving for three months.

Ms Cahill Lambert had been riding on a bicycle path on Commonwealth Avenue. She fell to the road, suffering cuts and bruises. One of her fingernails was torn off.

Fibrosing alveolitis is rare. Older people diagnosed with it often get pneumonia and die.

''No one knows what happens,'' Ms Cahill Lambert says. ''I'm not going to be hanging around waiting, I plan to go back to work, should jobs ever become available again in this town.''

''We celebrated my 50th birthday a year early because everyone thought I was going to die that year, so I'm still going to stay 50 and keep celebrating that 50th birthday.''

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