Siobhan Brady from Ballinagh

Cavan transplantees promote Organ Donor Awareness Week

The incredible stories of two Cavan transplant recipients featured as part of the online national launch of Organ Donor Awareness Week 2021, which runs from March 27 until April 3.

This year’s awareness campaign is built around the theme #Life is a Gift Pass it On and ‘Share your Wishes’.

Stephen Smith from Castletara underwent a double-lung transplant at the Mater Hospital over seven years ago.

Project manager Siobhan Brady (38) from Ballinagh meanwhile underwent a simultaneous pancreas and kidney transplant at St Vincent’s University Hospital only last year.

“I suppose that’s the reason I am in this chair today,” said Siobhan, who was diabetic up until the time of her transplant.

She had suffered an E. Coli infection in 2012 when travelling in India for work. The result was that Siobhan spent the next 18 months in and out of hospitals during which time she developed sepsis twice.

“I spent a week in ICU in Cavan General Hospital and at the early stage it looked like I quite likely wouldn’t make it through,” recalls Siobhan.

“It sounds like a tale of woe, but it isn’t. While living with organ failure is hard, there is hope. I always felt that while one area of my life wasn’t exactly easy that didn’t have to have an impact on every part of my life,” adds Siobhan

Both Stephen and Siobhan welcome the fact that despite the unprecedented challenges the current pandemic has presented, organ donations and transplants have continued.

At any one time in Ireland there are between 550 and 600 people on waiting lists for organ transplants including heart, lung, liver, kidney and pancreas.

Stephen was born with a genetic condition called Alpha-1 Antitrypsin Deficiency that can affect the lungs and the liver. One in 25 Irish people are carriers for Alpha-1, making it the second most common genetic lung disease after cystic fibrosis.

Stephen was only diagnosed with the condition age 25. Before that he had been an avid Gaelic footballer for his local team Drumalee

“My lungs were like an 80 year old smoker’s lungs despite having never touched a cigarette in my life,” remembers taxi-driver Stephen. “I was struggling to walk short distances or climb stairs at that point and, also, suffering frequent chest infections also.”

It was also around that time that Stephen met his future wife Rachel. He says she never questioned his illness, despite knowing all the potential consequences.

Stephen, who suffered eight false calls for the surgery before the transplant finally happened, describes Rachel as his “rock” throughout all of it.

“I know how lucky I am to have her by my side throughout it all because there have been some very dark days. We got married shortly after I was put on oxygen 24-hours a day so I knew she was the one. It never phased her and never saw me as my illness just as Stephen. Without her and my amazing family I don’t think I could have got through it all.”

The Irish Kidney Association (IKA) looks forward to celebrating annual Organ Donor Awareness Week 2021 with many public sites around the country being lit up in green.

A year ago, the 2020 Organ Donor Awareness Week campaign was postponed and ultimately cancelled at short notice when Covid-19 reached Irish shores.

But speaking at the national launch this week, Carol Moore, Chief Executive of IKA explained: “The words #Life is a Gift, Pass it On represent the transient beauty of the ‘gift of life’ underpinned by the selfless generosity of the human spirit. Share Your Wishes represents the importance of discussion with loved ones about organ donation and sharing your wishes is the cornerstone of the campaign.”