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All of us on the organ list share an obsession -- time


CPSU delegate Sinead McKenna, from Dundalk, after her
attack on the ICTU leadership

CPSU delegate Sinead McKenna, from Dundalk, after her attack on the ICTU leadership

CPSU delegate Sinead McKenna, from Dundalk, after her attack on the ICTU leadership

A TRANSPLANT, when it happens, is a medical miracle. The set of circumstances that are required for a heart, or a liver, or a kidney to be donated and successfully implanted in a broken body are beyond my comprehension. Even after the two years I have now spent on the transplant list.

Each of us awaiting this unique type of surgery is painfully aware that someone will have to die if we are to live. That is the first circumstance.

They also have to die in particular conditions that facilitate the harvesting of organs. Some family then has to find the strength in their darkest hour to agree to allow for their loved one to become an organ donor. That donor has to be about the same age and about the same weight as you. They have to have a matching blood type.

When all of those incidentals fall into place, the recipients of the donated organs receive the call that we are all waiting for every day, ever hour.

We are, these days, also battling against the circumstances of cutbacks, of theatres being closed, of beds being unavailable and of organs not donated because nurses and doctors are under too much pressure to even ask that vital question of bereaved families.

But to think that it could be the circumstance of transportation -- the requirement to get a patient from home to hospital -- that could be the circumstance upon which your miracle falls down: that is the stuff of nightmares.

I don't know Meadhbh McGivern. But I do know what it's like to have a vital organ fail.

I am awaiting a kidney transplant, and there are hundreds like me and Meadhbh who are reliant on these surgeries to happen if we are to have our chance of a new life.

I am quite a bit older than Meadhbh. If I am scared at times, I do not know how she manages to cope with the knowledge that comes to us all last thing at night -- that organs are few, and every day our bodies are struggling that bit more.

There is some safe refuge for me at least. Those of us awaiting kidney transplants have a treatment that should keep us alive and relatively well until we get the call to Beaumont Hospital in Dublin, which is where all kidney and pancreatic transplants in this country are performed.

Dialysis has been central to my daily routine for more than two years now. I am on a form of the treatment that allows me to dialyse at home overnight, for eight hours while I sleep. I must do this every day to clear toxins and fluids from my body.

Most days, I wake up feeling like I haven't been to sleep at all. My body never gets to rest, because all through the night, it is undergoing therapy. Dialysis fluids travel in and out of my body, through a tube in my tummy, drawing toxins from my blood, leaving me completely dehydrated by morning. It is like waking with a hangover every single day.

The journey towards a transplant is a long one, often spanning the whole of your life so far, if you are born with an illness that will result in organ failure. We are, in essence, all the time waiting. And from the moment of diagnosis, that wait is concentrated on the closest thing to a cure that modern medicine can currently offer us -- a transplant.

Due to demand, there is the frustrating fact that you must become extremely sick before you will be placed on the transplant list. In the case of kidney patients, we must wait for our kidney function to dip below 20pc. Those in need of the other vital organs need to wait until their breathing becomes so laboured, or their heart so weak, or the tissue in their livers so poisoned, that they are deemed sick enough.

There comes an enormous sense of relief and hope when you are finally declared 'active' on the transplant list. Your mobile phone becomes your constant companion, never switched off, always within earshot. Your hospital bag is packed and ready to go. Life has to go on as normal, to some extent, but for you, and your family, there is an underlying suspense that might not be mentioned every day, but that is there in the midst of you all of the time.

There is, however, a fine line between expectation and desperation. For too many of us, years pass, and no call comes. For those in need of more immediate transplants, hope never comes good, or it comes good too late.

Regardless of which organ has failed, we all share an obsession -- time. How long we have been waiting, how long we spend on dialysis, or on various other forms of treatment, how long it will take to get to the hospital when we get called.

But in the case of Meadhbh, and others like her, who are awaiting hearts, and lungs and livers, their preoccupation with time is sadly all too often a case of how much longer can they hang on.

Irish Independent