Helen Milligan’s tandem dive raised over €8,000 for the Irish Kidney Association

Flying high for transplant colleague

What would possess you to fall 10,000 feet from an aeroplane? For Helen Milligan it was an act of support for “a dependable, loyal and kind colleague”.

Two times kidney transplant recipient Hugo McCaffrey’s first meeting with the managing director of a successful business was when she was a baby in a pram. The thought he would inspire her to jump out of a plane never occurred to him at that time.

Over his 40 years working at Gem Oils in Cavan, up to his retirement in 2019, Hugo became an endearing friend and employee in the Milligan’s family business. Helen, now Managing Director, describes Hugo as “a dependable, loyal and kind colleague”.

“Everyone at GEM would describe Hugo as an inspiration as he carried his journey with kidney disease so bravely,” said Helen.

She undertook her first ever skydive on August 21 and, in the process, raised over €8,000 for the Irish Kidney Association on the Just Giving fundraising page. Helen’s tandem skydive was under the direction of the Irish Parachute Club in Clonbullogue, Offaly.

Helen, a keen advocate for organ donation, has carried her donor card since first becoming aware of Hugo’s plight.

“Seeing first-hand how the gift of life has saved and improved Hugo’s life has cemented my simple decision to carry a donor card and my deepest respect for organ donors.”

Hugo has undergone two kidney transplants. He was in his twenties when he started working at Gem Oils in Cavan. Back in 1982 he attended his doctor in Clones to complain about a bad pain in his back. This led to a diagnosis of advanced stage polycystic kidney disease. Fortunately, his three siblings were spared the hereditary condition.

After learning of his condition it became apparent that his own mother, who passed away with high blood pressure at the age of 51, had undetected kidney disease. Hugo’s aunt was just 38 years old when she passed away. Three of Hugo’s cousins, all siblings, also had PKD. One has since passed, while two sisters are enjoying successful kidney transplants.

Hugo’s shock diagnosis came just a few months after he married the love of his life, Delia. The couple became stalwart members and fundraisers for the Cavan/Monaghan branch of the Irish Kidney Association. Delia did a skydive in the late ‘80s, along with branch member Vinny McEntee, to help raise funds to establish a dialysis unit in Cavan.

This dream for a local dialysis treatment facility to ease the burden on patients became a reality thanks to the efforts of members like Delia and Hugo. Fundraisers such as golf tournament, head shaves, tug of wars have all been employed to support the organisation.

By 1990 Hugo could no longer stave off dialysis treatment. In July that year, he began his three times weekly trips to Beaumont Hospital. A year later he was called for his first transplant: “I feel huge gratitude to my donor for this transplant which lasted 13 years until it eventually failed. I had to return to dialysis treatment again, but this time round the unit was up and running in Cavan General Hospital. I could manage my three times weekly dialysis around my work.”

Hugo’s support network has made the burden he carries a bit lighter: “My employers Gem Oil were very accommodating and understanding as my treatment continued for a few years. In 2006, another stranger family came to my rescue as they donated a loved one’s kidney to me, and it continues to be a success. In my final years working in Gem Oils, I undertook less physically demanding work for Helen who, like her father, Alec, had been a good employer and friend to me.”

Hugo says the fundraiser serves a dual purpose: “It’s wonderful that with the money it raises that the Irish Kidney Association can help other people with kidney disease while promoting organ donation.”

Hugo was very appreciative of Helen’s fundraising efforts: “I would thank her from the bottom of my heart and also thank my wife who has been my constant support. I’d also like to thank my two kidney donors who have given me the chance to enjoy a full and healthy life.”

Organ Donor Cards can be obtained by phoning the Irish Kidney Association on 01-6205306 or Free text the word DONOR to 50050. You can also visit the website www.ika.ie/get-a-donor-card or download a free ‘digital organ donor card’ APP to your phone.