Tuesday 10 December 2019

Stroke of luck for local hero

Jason O'Brien

Jason O'Brien

DARREN CAWLEY believes a trip to the optician saved him from an imminent stroke.

Yesterday, the 32-year-old became the inaugural winner of a new 'Local Hero' award, partly for his work in teaching the importance of organ donation to school children in Mayo.

Twelve years ago, he was studying sport science in a college in England when he started to get headaches and blurred vision, the cause of which he initially wrote off as too many late nights. A visit to the optician proved otherwise.

"It was the optician that probably saved me from having a stroke -- he sent me to the hospital," Mr Cawley said yesterday. "My blood pressure was through the roof. It was bursting blood vessels in my eyes."

He had suffered kidney failure. Within two years, he had undergone a transplant and, returning to his love of sport, he was competing at the World Transplant Games in Japan.

But then, with his immune levels low after the transplant, he contracted "a freak virus" and his new kidney failed.

"I had to go through the same operation as before to get the kidney removed, but I knew this time it meant hospital every two days," he said. "It was a tough time."

That was 2002. Mr Cawley was on dialysis for over two years before the virus left his system. Then he was put on the waiting list for a new kidney. He has remained on both dialysis and the waiting list since.


"I've been doing it so long, it's normality with me," he said. "I'm comfortable with it. I'm from Westport and go to Castlebar general for four hours of dialysis three times a week."

The average waiting time for a kidney is less than three years, but Mr Cawley has been waiting for five.

"The biggest side effect for me is a lack of energy," he said. "But we have a family business and if I feel up to it, I work."

And he still loves sport, competing -- and winning -- in transplant and dialysis games in Germany, Slovenia and Hungary.

"I go to schools around Mayo giving talks on donor awareness," he added. "That's the little project I have, and I'm hoping to keep that going and maybe spread it around the country."

Hundreds of nominations were received for the competition -- sponsored by Santa Rita 120 wine -- to find the local hero.

"There are so many ordinary people doing extraordinary things day in and day out but for us Darren's enthusiasm and willingness to help others even though he battles illness shone out," one of the judges, RTE journalist Vivienne Traynor, said yesterday.

As part of his prize, he won €10,000 which he has donated to the European Transplant and Dialysis Games in Dublin later this year, and at which he hopes to compete.

Irish Independent

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