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A mother's wonderful gift of life to little Cleo

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Joy: Sarah Duke with her youngest child Cleo

Joy: Sarah Duke with her youngest child Cleo

Joy: Sarah Duke with her youngest child Cleo

Sarah Duke has an extra special reason for enjoying Mother's Day today.

She remains forever grateful she was able to save the life of her youngest child by giving her part of her liver.

Her daughter Cleo (4) is "doing fabulous" since undergoing transplant surgery in London. "I just feel so lucky that I was a suitable donor for Cleo," said the mother-of-three.

Sarah is a clinical scientist who works in the genetics laboratory at Crumlin Children's Hospital in Dublin.

Her husband Phil will cook a celebration meal for Sarah at their home in Lucan, Co Dublin, today and they have been looking forward to spending the day with their three children Nina (8), Joni (7) and Cleo.

"We remain extra vigilant for Cleo at present, as her immune system will remain suppressed for the rest of her life," Sarah told the Sunday Independent.

Four weeks after Cleo was born, her public health nurse Carole Leslie suspected that Cleo's jaundice and pale stools could be the signs of liver disease and encouraged Sarah to bring forward a planned health check.

Three weeks later, Cleo was diagnosed with Biliary Atresia and soon afterwards was placed on a waiting list for liver transplant surgery.

She received wonderful care from a whole team of staff headed by Consultant Dr Annemarie Broderick at Crumlin Children's Hospital. They were supported by the hospital's liver team and by Children's Liver Disease Ireland.

But months went by without a single call regarding a potential donor.

Cleo's health continued to deteriorate as her jaundice worsened, her tummy swelled, and she was itchy, constantly throwing up and losing weight. It was believed Cleo would not survive to her second birthday without a transplant.

The worry of it all was "super stressful", said Sarah.

Sarah, who had been assessed along with other family members, decided no more time could be lost and the surgery took place at King's College Hospital in London when Cleo was 10 months old.

Livers consist of two lobes and the smaller lobe from Sarah was small enough to be transplanted in her daughter.

"It is a world centre of excellence and it's where all paediatric liver transplants for Irish children take place," she said.

She said she received a grant from the NHS in Britain, which is made available to all living donors which helped cover the cost of the five weeks she and Phil needed to be in London.

"Cleo bounced back very quickly. She sat up in bed on day two and asked for a banana," said Sarah.

Back in Ireland, Sarah's brother Thomas and his wife Fiona took care of Nina and Joni.

The joy of Cleo's full recovery was followed by sadness some months later when Sarah's father Eamonn, former Professor of Zoology at University College, Dublin, for whom Sarah had been caring, died of cancer.

Sarah and Phil hope that telling their story will show how much of a difference organ donation makes in the lives of people and their loved ones.

The Irish Kidney Association's Organ Donor Awareness Week and fundraising activities, due to begin next Saturday, were cancelled because of the Covid-19 crisis. People are encouraged to carry an organ donor card. The public can also support the work of the Association and Freetext KIDNEY to 50300 to donate €4, of which a minimum of €3.60 will go to the charity.

People can have their decision to be available for organ donation included on their driver's licence. They can also get a digital organ donor card app for their smartphone. People are invited to visit https://ika.ie/make-a-contribution

Sunday Independent