'I've had a liver transplant and now I'm going to play golf for Ireland'
Vincent Bradshaw, who had a successful liver transplant after a long illness, is now set to play golf for Ireland.
A sports-mad dad from the Midlands, whose future has been in jeopardy on more than one occasion, is hoping to celebrate his victory over ill health by winning a medal for Ireland.
This epic journey began many moons ago, when Vincent Bradshaw (39) was still living a seemingly idyllic existence in Knockavilla, Co Tipperary, with his three brothers. "It was lovely growing up in that quiet, rural village and to be able to ride your bicycle around the peaceful roads," he recalls. "I was also into sport, big time, and played hurling, football and soccer."
However, when Vincent was 13, illness catapulted him into a different world. He was admitted to hospital with jaundice, which is a sign of hepatitis; this affects the liver and may cause yellowish colouring of the skin and the whites of the eyes. "I was in second year, and though I only spent two weeks in hospital, I was off school for three months and ended up having to repeat the year," Vincent recalls. "At one point, I was down to eight-and-a-half stone - not much, when you think I was already nearly six foot tall. I looked terrible."
Things then escalated to the point where his condition was deemed to be "chronic active"; this meant he had autoimmune hepatitis, which is incurable but can be managed with medication.
Consequently, Vincent was put on high doses of steroids and, while the drugs helped with the inflammation from the hepatitis, they also caused cirrhosis (hardening) of the liver.
However, over time his various problems were brought under control with the help of medication and an annual liver biopsy. He was also well looked after by his GP, Kieran O'Dwyer, who has a practice in Dundrum, Co Tipperary. "I started seeing him when I was 16," says Vincent. "He and his wife Mairead have always been there for me in the most caring and professional way."
When he was 22, he was referred on to the liver unit at St Vincent's Hospital in Dublin. Over the years, he has had approximately 10 flare-ups that required him to be hospitalised. But otherwise, he lived a near-normal life.
As time went on, Vincent did business studies in college in Carlow. In 2004, he married the lovely Lorraine Anderson, whom he had met while working as a sales rep. They set up house in Cahir, Co Tipperary, which is strategically placed midway between their parental homes.
However, a year later, Vincent's happy lifestyle ground to a halt when his condition deteriorated to such an extent that he was put on the list for a liver transplant. "My cirrhosis had got so bad, I was constantly yellow and terribly tired," he says.
Just 12 months later, a potential match was identified. "I got the call at 7.30pm one Wednesday night and was told to be at St Vincent's Hospital by midnight. I was operated on at six the next morning," he says.
Vincent was told there was a 20pc chance he wouldn't make it, but says he wasn't fazed. "I had an inner belief that I'd survive; I don't know why," he says. "The thought of dying never entered my head. Lorraine and mam came with me to the operating theatre and I could see they were upset. I told them I was going to be fine, and I meant it."
Vincent says his next memory is of waking shortly after the operation and wondering where he was. When he was told he was in the recovery room, he started to shake uncontrollably. This, he believes, was due to the immense relief he felt about the fact that he had, indeed, survived. He then lapsed back into sleep and slept for another two days. This time he woke with a terrible thirst and asked for a drink. He was given a nutritional beverage, straight from the fridge, and says it was manna from heaven. "I have never tasted anything so good in my life - even if I did bring it up afterwards," he says.
Vincent remained in hospital for over two weeks, and though he had some anticipated issues around rejection, these were overcome and the transplant proved to be successful. However, he did develop colitis, which is an inflammation of the bowel, and he got skin cancer in his neck, which he says, was probably caused by a combination of medication and low immunity.
Late last year, he had what he describes as a "minor hiccup" when he needed to have a stent inserted in the liver. This has to be replaced every six months. Yet, in spite of all the problems, Vincent is feeling and looking really good.
Nowadays, he happily commutes to his job at The Phone Stores outside Dublin. "I love my job and my employer is so good; he never has issues if I have a hospital appointment," Vincent says. "In fact, he knew about my health problems when he took me on."
Vincent and Lorraine now have a beautiful five-year-old daughter called Emma, and this proud dad says his chatty little girl keeps him totally grounded.
She will be travelling with him to Poland this month when he competes in the European Transplant and Dialysis Sports Championships, which begin on Saturday and run until August 23. This time round, golf is his game. "I took up the sport when I gave up hurling and football. I really love it. I'd play more, but work gets in the way," Vincent says.
Vincent, who is a member of Cahir Park Golf Club, has a 12 handicap. Last year, he won the prestigious Captain's Prize and he also scooped the top prize in the Causeway Coast Golf Challenge, which was played over four days and involved 800 competitors.
Now, he has his eye firmly fixed on Krakow.
"The people in my home club were great and held a quiz night which raised enough to cover my expenses," Vincent says. Of the 34 members of the Irish contingent, 10 are golfers. The team is being coordinated by the Irish Kidney Association (IKA). Other sports, in which this country will participate, include track and field, swimming, badminton and table tennis.
Vincent can't wait to hit the Polish fairways. "I'd love to bring a medal home for Ireland. But this is also for the family of the person whose organ I got. I will be eternally grateful to them," he says. "Lorraine and Emma mean so much to me and it's thanks to the donors that I am alive and able to be with my family and to play golf for my country."
For organ donor cards, Freetext DONOR to 50050, or download the free donor app for iPhone, iPad or Android by searching for Ecard, or visit www.ika.ie