“The gift of a lifetime” has become a well-worn phrase to describe trinkets that in reality have little meaning. There is one gift that is truly the gift of a lifetime. It is that of organ donation, writes Thomas Lyons.
The Irish Kidney Association is highlighting Organ Donor Awareness Week (March 30-April 6) in an effort to give the chance of life to people in dire circumstances.
“If everybody who believes that organ donations are important carried an organ donor card, there would be a lot more organ transplants taking place in Ireland,” Aodhagan Cullen knows a bit more about the issue than most.
Aodhagan is one of six Cullen siblings from Mullahoran. He underwent a double transplant, kidney and pancreas, in November 2017, at St Vincent’s University Hospital, Dublin. He now looks forward to joining Transplant Team Ireland to represent his country at the World Transplant Games to be held in the UK in August.
His journey to this point has been a tough road: “I am a diabetic since I was three years of age. I had a lot of trouble with it when I was growing up. Later on, when I was about 10 or 12, they told me my kidneys were giving me trouble.”
Aodhagan started taking insulin at the age of four. It worked well for him for the first couple of years but, when the product was taken off the market, things changed. He tried several other types and doses of insulin, but none worked well for him. This led to a lot of hospital stays for many years. He became a regular inpatient at Crumlin Children’s hospital from eight years old to his teenage years. He missed a lot of school as a child due to illness.
“I looked after myself and took every consideration to slow any deterioration down, which I did until about seven years ago,” he says of his illness.
For nearly four decades he was injecting insulin four times a day. It wasn’t until his early thirties that his kidney function started to rapidly decline. He underwent dialysis treatment for seven years before being called for a transplant.
“I underwent haemodialysis treatment three times a week in the evening time at Cavan General Hospital for four hours at a time and this continued for six years,” Aodhagan explained, “I was also being cared for by Beaumont Hospital where transplants are carried out and then St Vincent’s when the kidney pancreas transplant programme was moved to there. With haemodialysis my health stabilised and I was glad that I could continue working and lead as normal a life as possible within the limitations that dialysis brings.”
Aodhagan describes his lot as “a tough situation” but remains positive:
“I got a lot of support from my employer and my family. I work in CG Power Systems Ireland Ltd. They accommodate me 100% and were very supportive all along including the time I had to take off work for my transplant operation and several months for recovery.”
Since his transplant things have been improving: “I no longer have to take insulin daily and I enjoy more freedom away from dialysis. I joined the gym soon after I started hospital dialysis because I wanted to keep myself well and fit and be ready if I got called for a transplant operation. It has all paid off. Although my recovery from my transplant took almost six months, I have now returned to work as well as to the gym. I enjoy keeping fit and cycling.”
His fitness regime has also opened new doors for him: “A major highlight of this year is that I can look forward to taking part in the World Transplant Games in August and representing my country for the first time while honouring my donor. I will compete in tennis, badminton, ball throw and 10 pin bowling. None of this would be possible were it not for my donor who gave me this new lease of life.”
Aodhagan’s journey is just one of many that happened because of organ donation. Some donations are because of the Organ Donor Awareness Week.
The Irish Kidney Association has announced that Ray D’Arcy has agreed to be the voluntary ambassador for organ donor awareness 2019. He takes up the baton from Claire Byrne who fronted last year’s campaign. Ray will feature in radio advertising and posters as well as attending the national launch of 2019 Organ Donor Awareness at the Mansion House Dublin on Tuesday, March 26.
The focus of Organ Donor Awareness Week is to remind individuals to talk to their families about their organ donation wishes and keep the reminders of their decision visible by carrying the organ donor card and permitting Code 115 to be included on their driver’s licence or downloading the ‘digital organ donor card’ App to their smartphone.
Information fact files, which accompany the free organ donor cards, are obtainable from the Irish Kidney Association and are available nationwide from pharmacies, GP surgeries and post offices.
Organ Donor Cards can also be acquired by phoning the Irish Kidney Association telephone 01 6205306 or Free text the word DONOR to 50050. Visit website www.ika.ie/card