Irish artist Graham Knuttel is celebrating this weekend after receiving a kidney from his wife Ruth.
Speaking from his hospital bed in Beaumont, Knuttel said: “She was a perfect match. That’s amore. It’s love. Words can’t express how I feel. It’s just too difficult. I guess now I’ll have to behave when I go home.”
The operation comes four years after he was rushed to St Vincent’s hospital with kidney failure. At the time he was also waiting for a new liver, which he received in 2020.
This weekend Knuttel was full of joy after the successful operation on Monday.
“The hospitals had been doing very few transplants for ages because of Covid. But now they are working flat out and we got the call two weeks ago to come in and see the doctors. That’s when they told me I could go in for the operation on Monday. I was a bit scared — I am 68 — but I was also relieved.
On the doctor’s concerns, he said: “They were slightly worried because the liver transplant didn’t go so well a few years ago and I had a lot of trouble after the operation, but this time all the staff were elated that it had worked as well as it did.”
On his current condition, he said: “They have me on this stuff to make me go to the toilet so every five f**king minutes I have to climb out of the bed, but — apart from that — I feel great. I can eat salt again and I can drink milk again and I am eating quite nice stew and I no longer have to have all my food prepared like a baby. The food is quite nice here in Beaumont actually. I guess you could say I am a northsider now.”
On how it feels to receive the gift of life, he said: “Wonderful. I have got an awful lot of catching up to do. I’m most looking forward to painting again because it has been very difficult doing it on the dialysis — which I have been on for three-and-a-half years. The first thing I am going to do is paint a surgeon.
"I have seen enough of them to last me a lifetime.”
Knuttel also called on people to sign up for organ donation so they have the chance to save another person’s life.
“Certainly everybody should be an organ donor. In Spain it is the law that you have to opt out of the programme.”
The country’s policy means that a patient is presumed to consent to organ donation unless they have stated otherwise.
Sharing his key lesson from the experience, he said: “To enjoy life. I would tell people to keep it simple and enjoy every day as it comes.”
Famed for his bold colours and devilish portrayals of the human condition, his canvasses have won him admirers around the world, including Robert De Niro, Sylvester Stallone, Bertie Ahern and Joanna Lumley as well as the Swiss Bank Corporation, Goldman Sachs International and Saatchi & Saatchi.
He was synonymous with the excesses of the Celtic Tiger and considered the wild child of the Irish art world when his health took a turn in 2018.
Speaking to the Sunday Independent in June 2020, he described how he struggled under the weight of his illness: “I slowed right down. I stopped being creative. I just painted to paint. I had no vision of where I was going. I was so low. Time stood still.”
Recalling the rock-bottom he experienced before receiving a new liver, he says: “I was in intensive care and I’d had enough. I was waiting for a liver and my kidneys had gone. I didn’t want to go on. I asked them to turn off the machines.”
At the time, the doctor told him “to sleep on it” and Knuttel says “by the next day I had changed my mind. You have to be positive if you want to survive. But yeah, that was definitely the lowest”.
As a result of the pandemic, there has been a decline in the number of transplants over the past two years.
Last year 104 kidney transplants took place, against a previous average of 128. Liver transplants dropped more precipitously in 2021, from a five-year average of 61 to 35.
To apply for an Organ Donor Card, free text the word ‘Donor’ to 50050 or Lo-call 1890 543 639.