Tuesday 20 March 2018

'Our feisty little Keela wouldn't be here today if not for donor'

Orla Smith and her daughter Keela, aged four.
Orla Smith and her daughter Keela, aged four.
Majella O'Sullivan

Majella O'Sullivan

FOUR years ago, a virus attacked her heart and left her fighting for her life. Today, Keela Smith is a feisty four-year-old and full of life, thanks to a selfless gift from a grieving family that saved her life.

When Orla and John Smith look at their little girl, they're grateful for the hope they received four years ago when she had a heart transplant.

Her mum Orla says Keela wouldn't be around today – and nearing her fifth birthday – had it not been for the decision made by the family of another child to donate the organs.

It was on Easter Saturday four years ago that the Smiths' previously healthy baby girl – aged 11 months – was struck down by an illness that left her on a ventilator and waiting for a heart transplant.

At the family home in Blackrock, Cork, Keela took ill, seemed to have trouble breathing and turned blue.

Orla recalls: "She gave this high-pitched shriek and turned blue. We took her to the A&E in Cork University Hospital and she was transferred from there to Crumlin."

On May 8, 2009, they got the call and Keela was transferred to Freeman Hospital in Newcastle, where she received her heart transplant on May 23.

"She's a fabulous little girl," said Orla. "She loves mummy's lipstick, her clothes – she's a real little girl."

Keela has faced an uphill struggle on her road to recovery. She is still on anti-rejection medication and has picked up a few colds and a tummy bug.

In the past few weeks, she has improved and last week she attended her first full week at pre-school.

"We're always very mindful of her. We don't like to mention the 'r' word (rejection) but a common cold or a tummy big could be an indication of this," Orla explained.

For Organ Donor Awareness Week, which starts today, the family would like to spread the message about the wonderful legacy of organ donation.

"We were just an ordinary, happy family and all of a sudden we were dealing with organ failure," said Orla.

"Nobody wants to ever be in the situation where they're approached and asked to consider organ donation when they're just dealing with the loss of a child. At least if that has been discussed before, that decision is already made.

"I know that's a hard thing for parents to contemplate but it's so important to raise awareness about organ donation."

Unlike other children, Keela is lucky to be able to celebrate two birthdays each year.

At the end of April she will turn five and in May she will celebrate her heart birthday.

Every day her parents spare a thought for her donor and their family and they especially remember them on May 23.

Volunteers from the Irish Kidney Association will be selling 'forget me not' flower emblems throughout Organ Donor Awareness Week, which continues until April 6.

There are more than 600 people in Ireland waiting for organ transplants, including heart, lung, liver, kidney and pancreas.

Last year, thanks to the generosity of 78 deceased donors and their families, a total of 206 transplant operations took place.

Irish Independent

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