Saturday 25 October 2014

'I never thought that kidney failure would happen to me'

Edel Coffey talks to the people whose lives have been changed by organ donation

Lorraine Armstrong. Picture: James Connolly
Lorraine Armstrong on her wedding day just days before she got sick
David Anderson

The idea of donating an organ is something that rarely crosses most of our minds, until we need one, that is.

Lorraine Armstrong (27) from Ballygalway, Sligo, felt ill on her honeymoon but didn't think much of it at the time. The young newlywed put her headaches down to all the excitement in the build-up.

When she was due to go back to work, her vision wasn't right, it was blurry but she put off doing anything about it. She made an appointment with the opticians for the end of the week and they couldn't find anything wrong.

"My mum said go to hospital but I said I'd be fine. I had a bad headache but I put it down to travelling. I had an excuse for everything."

By Saturday, things were so bad that Lorraine couldn't deny something was very wrong. "I woke up and knew instantly I had to go. I had a really bad headache. I felt like my head was going to explode. My vision was totally blurred, I was sick, and dizzy, with no energy at all and felt just rotten."

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 Lorraine Armstrong on her wedding day just days before she got sick

Lorraine was seen straight away in the hospital. Her blood pressure was 200 over 127. The nurses didn't understand how she had not had a stroke or a brain haemorrhage. She was treated for her blood pressure first, and then, when that was under control, they started to investigate. Lorraine's family were panicking but she was calm. The doctors ran tests and her kidney function came back as at 11pc. A normal healthy kidney averages at 100pc kidney function.

"That's end-stage kidney failure," says Lorraine. "There's no coming back. The way they put it was, 'Lorraine, your kidneys aren't functioning at the minute'."

There are two types of kidney failure – chronic failure and acute. There is no cure for chronic. When they did a biopsy, they found that Lorraine had chronic kidney failure. "I was fairly calm. I didn't realise for a long time. Last year I realised I'm going to do dialysis."

Lorraine never had any symptoms. The only thing that changed on her honeymoon was her ankles were swollen and she had a bad cough, which would suggest fluid on the lungs. "Every time I got up from a chair or the bed my head would pound, which was the blood pressure."

The diagnosis of chronic kidney failure meant Lorraine needs dialysis and a kidney transplant. "Even now I find it hard to think, it's a bit unbelievable. The treatment has helped. My symptoms have reduced. I've more energy and I feel better. I do eight hours' dialysis every night so you're a bit tied."

It has affected her life. She says she doesn't have the same lifestyle as an average 27-year-old. "I'm not out till 6am! I try to keep living in normality. I work with children with autism; some weeks the part-time hours are a struggle. I love to do it and I feel better in myself." She's also going on holidays in a few months, her first with the dialysis machine.

She's on the transplant list since December and says the average wait is about three years, but you might get lucky, or unlucky.

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Norman Fair. Photo:Keith Heneghan

Norman Fair (43) from Mayo, received a liver transplant seven years ago and has since married his long-term partner, Stephen. Norman was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis when he was nine and had a total colectomy and ileostomy in 1997, followed by ileostomy reversal six months later and a diagnosis of PSC in 2004. Primary sclerosing cholangitis (PSC) causes inflammation and blockage of the bile duct and can ultimately lead to liver failure. In 2006, when he was 35, Norman had an urgent liver transplant.

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