CHRISTMAS has far exceeded the usual hopes of the season for one Kerry man and his family who have finally been reunited after his year-long wait for a heart transplant in the full-time care of a Dublin hospital.
Castleisland man Shane O'Connell required a constant supply of life-saving drugs to keep him alive as he waited in the hope of getting a new heart. He spent the past year under the full-time care of heart specialists at the Mater Hospital in Dublin, with his family travelling back and forth every week from Kerry.
Wife Tricia, and children Shauna, Cadhla and four-year-old son Michael had been planning on spending Christmas with their father in the hospital. But the 33-year-old father was finally given the gift of a new heart less than two months ago and has now returned home to join his family for a Christmas they will never forget.
One family are constant in their thoughts, however - the family of the heart donor whose death made life possible once again for the O'Connells.
"We don't know who they are or where they are from, but the donor and their family are always in our thoughts," Tricia told The Kerryman this week. "It's very hard to articulate our feelings about the unbelieveable gift they have given us. It was a tragedy for that family, but it brought life back to Shane and all of us here as well as a number of other patients who received organs from the same donor. We just pray that the knowledge the organs have saved others will help them in the grieving process."
The young father was diagnosed with Dilated Cardio Myopathy at just 11 years of age; the same disease took the life of his father Michael when he was just 45. He was rushed into the full-time care of the Mater when his heart began deteriorating rapidly last year.
"Christmas is just amazing now. We never dared hope we would have Shane home and we had been planning on spending a second Christmas Day with him in the Mater. It's just fantastic having Shane back and he is doing really well, thank God. He is still understandly quite weak after undergoing such major surgery, but has taken to the new heart as well as could have been expected."
It's going to be another couple of months before Shane will be back on his feet fully, but the healing process is now boosted no end through the joy of finally being home with his family.
Tricia and Shane continue to urge people to become organ donors so that many more lives might be saved. Simply text the word DONOR to 50050 for a donation card.
Tricia also thanked the work of the Kerry branch of the Irish Kidney Association - the national organisation which leads the campaign for organ donors - who were a 'tremendous' source of advice and support throughout the family's long ordeal.