Surgeons plan first children's heart transplants in Ireland
Surgeons are planning to carry out heart transplants on children in Ireland for the first time - sparing them the journey to the UK for life-saving surgery.
Prof Jim Egan, director of the National Organ Donation and Transplant Office, said he believed the transplants - needed by around three to five children each year - could be done in Our Lady's Hospital in Crumlin.
Currently, children have to fly to Great Ormond St Hospital or Newcastle Hospital in the UK for the surgery, but they face a race against time, particularly in poor weather conditions.
He said he had begun talks on starting the heart transplants in Crumlin in light of the current level of expertise the hospital, which has three surgeons, two of whom do the operations on adult patients in the Mater Hospital.
"We should look to ourselves and see if we can be self-sufficient.
"The heart can only be out of the body for a limited time and there is a risk in transporting children within four hours. It may mean someone had to get from Galway to London in that time."
Ireland donates donor hearts for children into a pool that benefits all young patients needing a transplant in the UK. However, it will be necessary to reach agreement with the UK to contribute donor organs if the programme begins here.
It would take a year to set it up.
Children needing other transplants would continue to travel to the UK.
Professor Egan was speaking at the launch of Organ Donor Awareness Week in Dublin's Mansion House, where many whose lives were saved by a donor organ spoke of the priceless gift.
Mark Murphy, of the Irish Kidney Association, said that while organ donations fell between 2013 and 2016, the number of organ transplants rose.
There were 298 life-saving operations last year, including 18 transplants on Irish people who were brought to the UK for surgery. However, he said 600 people were still on a waiting list and he called for the esbalishment of an organ donor registry.
Health Minister Simon Harris is to begin another round of public consultation on an "opt-out" register for organ donation.
The register, originally promised under the last government, would mean every citizen is presumed a donor unless they decided to indicateed otherwise.
Among the families giving thanks to the generosity of a donor were Kim and Declan Murphy, from Ballyheadon, in Annestown in Waterford.
Their daughter Lexi (7) is now thriving and energetic after undergoing a combined liver and kidney transplant in Birmingham last November.
They got the call just six days before Declan was going to donate part of his liver to her.
Lexi was born with polycystic kidney disease and developed scarring of the liver.
"Her first four years were plain sailing but in the summer of 2014 she began to get progressively worse.
"She was placed on the transplant list in November 2015."
She got a call for a potential match in July last year but was too sick to travel.
As the family became increasingly concerned, her father was tested and was going to give her part of his liver.
However, they were overwhelmed when they were told a combined liver and kidney transplant could be carried out thanks to an anonymous donor in Birmingham.
The HSE arranged for the Coast Guard's Rescue 117, based in Waterford, to transport them.
"They were great and made it very easy and calm, showing Lexi around the helicopter."
Lexi spent several hours on the operating theatre and recovered well.
But she had a setback two weeks later and needed more surgery.
"Thankfully, she pulled herself out of it.
"She is a fantastic patient and very resilient."
Both parents spent five weeks with her in the UK, while their other two children Dillon (11) and Ali (2) were minded by grandparents.
She is now back at school in senior infants class.
Organ Donor Awareness Week runs from Saturday April 1 to April 8.
The public will be asked to contribute and urged to apply for a donor card.