'I know I can only get the call for a transplant after somebody else's tragedy'
AS the affable maitre d' on RTE's new series of 'The Restaurant', John Healy is the calm voice of experience among the flushed celebrity cooks.
But behind the scenes, the 45-year-old has to cope with the daily stress of waiting for the hospital to call and tell him that a heart has become available for a life-saving transplant.
Mr Healy is among more than 600 people, many of them desperately ill, who are enduring an agonising wait for a transplant of a heart, kidney, liver or other organ.
He said: "My heart is working at only 30pc of its capacity. I was put on the transplant list in December, so every day I hope for the call.
"The producers of the current series, which was filmed in December and January, were very good to me.
"I start to fade after about six hours now. I know if I push the exhaustion barriers I will end up deteriorating faster."
Mr Healy has suffered two heart attacks. He blames his first attack on stress and a gruelling work schedule. But his second attack was brought on by going back to smoking, a pressurised job and a bad diet.
"There are 15 people on the list for a heart transplant and I don't know where I am on it," he said. "I know I can only get the call after somebody's else's tragedy and the generosity of their relatives."
Mr Healy was joined yesterday by another transplant hopeful, Paul Wynne (27), from Laytown, Co Meath.
They were among a gathering at the Mansion House in Dublin to highlight Organ Donor Awareness Week, which begins on Saturday.
Mr Wynne, who is suffering from cystic fibrosis, has been on the waiting list for a double lung transplant for the best part of a decade and has already suffered the disappointment of getting a hospital call about a possible organ on two occasions -- only to find he had to turn back home again.
It is unclear why the number of available organs plummeted last year -- donors fell to just 58 -- but it has prompted fears that overworked hospital staff are failing to approach the relatives of potential donors.
Liver-transplant surgeon Oscar Traynor, of St Vincent's Hospital in Dublin, said they needed to carry out around 65 operations annually but only managed 38 last year.
"If the waiting list gets longer, people are sicker by the time they get a transplant. Many died before a suitable organ became available," he added.
The number of donors has risen this year, allowing 66 transplants to be carried out.
However, Mark Murphy of the Irish Kidney Association said there remained an urgent need for transplant co-ordinators, who are skilled in approaching relatives at a time of tragedy, to be appointed to hospitals.
Health Minister James Reilly has confirmed that he will bring forward 'opt-out' legislation but said this would not mean organs would be removed without the consent of relatives. Instead, it would facilitate the start of "a conversation" with relatives.
He urged people with donor cards to talk to their relatives about how they would like them to proceed in the event of a sudden accident.