Taste of Success winner Padraig (33): 'My kidney transplant has given me my life back'
When kidney failure forced Padraig McCarthy to give up the career he adored, a transplant helped him bounce back to win a TV show and follow his dreams
Padraig McCarthy (33) from Limerick has had quite the year. Not only did he appear on national television and win a career-boosting competition, he also had a life-changing kidney transplant which meant he could leave dialysis behind for ever.
Padraig had been working as a chef since he was 16-years-old in some of Ireland's top establishments, eventually working his way up to head chef at the age of only 23. However, he had been diagnosed with IgA Nephropathy at 18. A chronic condition leading to a degeneration of kidney function over time, it eventually meant he had to leave his hard-won job in the profession he adored.
"Having worked so hard and then having the opportunity to oversee my own kitchen, and then to have to give it all up was hard to take to say the least, but unfortunately was out of my control due to my health issues," says Padraig. But the worst was yet to come for the chef.
"About two years ago my kidneys failed to the point of requiring dialysis with a view to a transplant," he explains.
"Dialysis is a very restrictive treatment in terms of leading a normal life. You have to be in a certain place at a certain time and there is no getting around it. Physically, you feel unwell as your body isn't functioning correctly and dialysis only replaces about 10pc of your native kidney function.
"Then there's also the difficulty emotionally knowing that you are essentially being kept alive by artificial means, and the uncertainty of whether or not you will get the transplant you desperately need and if so how long that will take."
Anyone who's ever had a loved one on a transplant list, or indeed been on one themselves, will understand how difficult it is waiting for the call to say that there's an organ match for you.
"I tried not to dwell on it," says Padraig. "The average wait is three-to-five years, so unless you can try to distance yourself from it to some degree, you'd become overwhelmed by it.
"In saying that it definitely crosses your mind at night when you're going to bed, wondering if tonight will be the night."
Despite these challenges, Padraig managed not only to appear on RTE's The Taste of Success, he won the entire competition (and €100,000) with his product, Irish Short Ribs with Pancetta and Cider sauce.
As part of the prize, it now appears in LIDL stores all over the country. For him, it was an experience that gave him a taste of the independence that could once again be his after the operation. "The big attraction was the opportunity to get back working with food again, and perhaps the chance to do so on a full-time basis.
"The process was an intense one with a lot of product refinement and whittling down of contestants done in a relatively short time."
For Padraig, the call came after his victory, on January 22 this year.
"After only six months on the transplant list, I got the call from Beaumont to say they had a kidney for me, and that I had to get there as soon as possible!
"I arrived in Dublin at 12:30pm, was in surgery shortly after 4pm and back by about 10.30 that night.
"You're encouraged to get out of bed and walk the next morning, so there is no hanging about and I was able to go home to Limerick after eight days," recalls Padraig.
The transplant has been an incredible success for him.
"I'm feeling terrific, it's like night and day!" he says of life post-op.
"Whilst I haven't returned to work yet, the difference in my day-to-day life now is staggering. No more dialysis, no restrictions on travel, no being tied to the same place at the same time.
"There is an overwhelming feeling of wellbeing and certainly for me a renewed sense of optimism," he says.
Padraig's story is quite incredible, because nephropathy isn't the only disease he's battled - he was diagnosed with testicular cancer at the age of 29.
"I'd already given up my career in the kitchen at that point, due to my poor kidney health and the extremely physical aspect of working in a professional kitchen.
"I noticed swelling one night and like most men I thought 'It'll go away'."
However worry niggled at Padraig, and he decided to be proactive.
"After a bit of Googling, fear started to set in and a couple of days later I went to my GP. Straight away I was referred to University Hospital Limerick and was seen by Urology the following day with surgery scheduled for the next week.
"I was extremely lucky in that the tumour was found early and I escaped with just surgery and no further treatment was required apart from regular follow-ups."
Now Padraig can look to the future with his wife Louise.
"Now that I have my health back, my goal is to return to working with food. As for how that will manifest itself, well, time will tell!"
He's encouraging anyone with a passion for food and an original idea to apply for Taste of Success before the deadline on May 7.
"It doesn't matter what your background is, amateur or professional, once you have a love of food and a great product idea. The experience is unique and the opportunities for those who make the most of them are endless."
For an application form, visit rte.ie/thetasteofsuccess.
Health & Living