Thursday 19 April 2018

'My donor gave me the opportunity to truly live'

Aoife Breen preparing to abseil off Table Mountain in Cape Town, South Africa.
Aoife Breen preparing to abseil off Table Mountain in Cape Town, South Africa.

Aoife Breen

The woman at the top of the room told us that one of us wasn't going to make it. Well, what she said was that 18pc of people in need of a liver transplant wouldn't get one in time. I remember the hairs standing up on the back of my neck. There were six of us at the transplant education day.

Having been diagnosed with a liver disease associated with cystic fibrosis (CF) at the age of six, I didn't really notice the symptoms: they were all part of 'normal'.

But in May 2012, I awoke in the middle of the night and threw up about half a litre of blood. Six weeks later it was almost my full blood supply over a few hours. The veins in my oesophagus had ruptured as a result of a dysfunctional liver. A leading consultant stood at the end of my hospital bed and voiced his opinion: "It's time to start considering a transplant."

My future vaporised with those words: my liver was slowly dying, and without the generosity of a stranger, I would die, too.

Thus began the hardest battle of my life: recovery after a summer of constant illness - not to be 'better' but to be 'better enough' to qualify for a transplant. The irony of life on the transplant list is that you have to be sick - but well enough to survive the wait.

Early on a September morning, the phone rang. "Aoife, we have a liver for you." It was supposed to be an ordinary Tuesday; I was supposed to go to work and reply to emails. And now I was on my way to everything, to the rest of my life.

Soon after waking up, I discovered I had energy that I never had before. The months that followed exposed other improvements, including a significantly better lung function, despite CF complications. I had gone on the list with the hope of surviving, but what I received was so much more.

So I decided to make the most of it. In January 2015, I left my job for a life of travel. I swapped hospital wards for hostel dorms, ambulances for airplanes, and surviving for living.

My donor was never far from my thoughts throughout my travels. I never lost sight of the fact that because of their decision, I was able to swim with sharks in the Caribbean, see Uluru at sunset, climb the Great Wall of China and climb Table Mountain. But more importantly, my life was my own again, and the banality of the ordinary was mine to enjoy once more.

This week is Organ Donation Awareness Week: it's time to talk to your family about just that.

Irish Independent

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