Tuesday 17 September 2019

Incredible story of father-of-two who runs to give thanks to his heart donor

Ken and Pamela Mulkerrins with Conor and Kate
Ken and Pamela Mulkerrins with Conor and Kate
Jerome Reilly

Jerome Reilly

Ken Mulkerrins was always into sport and fitness, despite being born with congenital heart disease.

As a baby he underwent successful open-heart surgery which made an enormous difference to his childhood and meant he could enjoy sport like his peers.

"Eventually it led to me being part of the Irish freestyle kayak team when I was in my late teens," he recalls.

But a few short years after first representing his country, and as Ken had just completed an expedition to the White Nile in Uganda with some teammates, he fell ill again.

"I had to undergo surgery which meant kayaking would be off the agenda for some time. It was around that time I got into mountain biking and swimming. I just got on with it and enjoyed these other sports as much as I could."

But just as he was developing his new sporting passions, Ken again fell ill in 2015. This time it was gravely serious. He was diagnosed with end-stage heart failure.

He said: "I was admitted to hospital and spent the next nine months being cared for, going through test after test. When I was finally approved for heart transplant surgery, the focus shifted to getting the right heart.

"This was an extremely difficult time for me, my wife Pamela and my two children Conor (9) and Kate (6), who got to see their daddy for about one hour a week. I was called seven times about a potential donor heart, and seven times it emerged that the heart was incompatible. Finally, on the eighth occasion we had a match."

Ken, who lives in Lucan, says recovery from transplant surgery was a slow process.

"I dealt with it by focusing on one goal at a time, walking for a few steps, walking for two minutes, walking the length of the hospital corridor and so on. I began walking around my local area with my father until I could walk 15km without stopping. My initial significant goal was to complete a 5k run and I had plenty of experienced coaching from my wife Pamela and her family, who have running in their blood."

Ken says he signed up for the Remembrance Run in 2016 to honour the memory of his donor.

"As a heart transplant recipient, you don't know the identity of your donor. The only thing you do know about them is that they are superheroes who need to be remembered for the amazing people they are. It was also an opportunity to raise awareness of organ donation and how important it is to 'have the chat' with your loved ones to let them know your wishes," Ken says.

Ken will be at this year's Remembrance Run 5k on Sunday, November 12, in the Phoenix Park with other walkers, joggers and runners remembering family or friends and, in Ken's case, the donor who gave him another chance of life.

The event was set up by Frank Greally of Irish Runner magazine to remember his great friend, Con Houlihan.

"I know that people have got great solace in walking, jogging and running in memory of a loved one," he said.

You can still register at remembrancerun.ie

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