As Organ Donor Awareness Week approaches I would like to share my experience as a kidney transplant recipient with the readers of this column. From my experience I appreciate the advances that have taken place in the world of care and treatment of patients such as myself. I have been asked so many times as to how or when I was diagnosed with kidney failure so it is best to start there.
I can honestly say that it was by pure accident that I learnt of my predicament. On one of my rare visits to my GP he observed that my blood pressure was very high. A blood sample indicated that further investigation was needed. Following a call from Unit 1 Merlin Park I was admitted and very soon it was confirmed that I had renal failure. That took me by surprise as I thought I was as healthy as the proverbial trout. Being a non-smoker and non-drinker and reasonably active it never entered my head that I could have blood pressure. On occasions like I found myself in, I did not argue the point.
I then had a discussion with the renal nurses where they explained the two types of dialysis practised in Merlin Park. I chose the system called ‘Home Dialysis’ where I had a portable dialysis machine in my bedroom to which I attached myself every night for an average of eight hours. Michelle, the nurse in charge, explained that this system worked on the principle of osmosis. This is the botanical method whereby plants bring dissolved minerals from their roots right throughout the plant irrespective of its size or height. The solutions I needed were delivered every month to my home by courier from [healthcare company] Baxter. Anything I needed only required a phone call to that company.
This procedure lasted for five years in my case. Initially I was told by the Consultant in Beaumont Hospital that the average waiting time was two and a half years to three years. However due to a shortage of donations of kidneys and an increase in patient numbers the waiting period grew longer. That was disappointing for me. Every night after connecting to the machine I wondered would my turn come tonight. I have to honestly say I never despaired. Yes, I would love if my waiting time was shorter. I also understood that the medical personnel in Beaumont had to be completely satisfied that the organ for donation matched all of my biological characteristics. During my waiting time I had monthly checks in Merlin Park and I received the best of attention at all times.
After four and half years I received a call at 3am to get to Beaumont immediately as a suitable kidney was available. Imagine my disappointment when the Surgeon said that this kidney was only 80 per cent suitable. All I could do was dress myself and come home. That trip was the most disappointing time in all of my five years of waiting. However six months after that I got another call as I was on my way to Cork. Yes, I was apprehensive that there might be another false call. Thank God my transplant has been very successful and the past 15 months has seen me return to good health. I can do normal things now without being exhausted. I can walk and cycle as before. As one who likes nice food, with my new kidney I am no longer on a diet. While on dialysis the ordinary potatoes had to be boiled twice to remove the potassium from it and likewise some vegetables were forbidden, for example peas and beans, and parsnips. Bacon and sausages were out and even my favourite nibble of chocolate was out. However I must confess that I occasionally broke that rule. This Christmas I really enjoyed the full meal. Even the Christmas pudding and cake were back on the menu.
After my transplant my wife and myself availed of the wonderful residence built by the Irish Kidney Association in the grounds of Beaumont Hospital. This offers free accommodation to patients and their families while the patient attends the various clinics in the hospital. It was very convenient for me to be able to be at the head of the queue at 8am. The Residence has very comfortable rooms and full kitchen facilities. The Kidney Association were very far seeing when they provided this facility. It provides first class accommodation and is wonderful for patients and family living outside of Dublin. Naturally the building needs upkeep and supervision and for that reason I appeal to all to support whatever fund raising activities is organised in your area for IKA.
Every day since I received the most wonderful gift I could possibly wish for – the gift of a return to full health – I remember with gratitude my donor. Without the generosity of my donor’s family I would not be as well as I am. In my mind I remember them and thank both donor and family. I do not know who my donor was but when we think about what took place in the transplant it should alert us to how important it is for all of us to talk and discuss with our families about donating one’s organs in the event of an unexpected death. Carrying a Donor Card also makes known one’s intentions; making your family aware that it is your wish is important.
Finally I wish to thank the Irish Kidney Association for all the help and encouragement it gives both to patients waiting for transplant and afterwards. It also organises social occasions for members and has holiday homes in Tralee and Tramore that can be used by patients and family.
Organ Donor Awareness Week runs from 29 March – 4 April. Organ Donor Cards can also be obtained by phoning the Irish Kidney Association on LoCall 1890 543639 or Freetext the word DONOR to 50050. Visit website www.ika.ie for more details.