Kerry transplant patient glad to be on the mend again – ‘I’m getting better everyday’

Transplant patient Ciara O'Connor with her father, Con (second from right), and medical personnel highlighting the importance of organ donation.

Stephen FernaneKerryman

Tralee woman Ciara O’Connor is making a great recovery after undergoing a liver transplant in March.

She recently teamed up with transplant surgeons from the Mater and St Vincent's University Hospitals to mark Global Surgery Day, which coincides with Organ Donor Awareness Week, and to celebrate the contribution of transplant surgeons and their valued, lifesaving role.

When Ciara was 16, she was diagnosed with primary sclerosing cholangitis (PSC). Ciara’s story started when her mother first noticed her skin colour had taken on a yellow tinge. Ciara’s GP, Dr Gerard O’Shea, took bloods and Ciara’s illness was confirmed.

Her treatment was a complex process in the sense she was deemed too healthy for a transplant. The medical view was that they did not want to carry out a liver transplant too early, but at the same time it was vital not to leave it too late by which time Ciara’s recovery would be prolonged.

Ciara was still working full-time and felt no ill-effects save for jaundice. It would be 11-years later – at the age of 27 – when things started to change for Ciara.

“I wasn’t really worried at the start as I wasn’t in any pain. The worst that happened me was the jaundice colour. Aside from that it was all grand,” she said.

“My bilirubin levels did start to rise, and I started to get a flare up. That’s when they put me on the list in late January and I had a transplant six weeks later at St Vincent’s Hospital,” she added.

The recovery time for a liver transplant is usually 10 to 12 days. Ciara was looking forward to leaving hospital when she developed Cryptosporidium that confined her to hospital for a month.

“I was actually feeling great after the transplant. I was up and walking around. When I caught the virus, I couldn’t walk, and my weight went down a lot. I still have a bit of back pain which is slowing me down, but I’m getting better every day,” she said.

Ciara works with horses at The Europe Hotel in Killarney as part of the hotel’s leisure offering. Returning to work can’t come soon enough.

“The advice is to take things easy and not to do anything for the next three months. It could be a lot worse. But the sooner I can get back on a horse again the better,” she said.

Lastly, Ciara is thankful for her life-saving transplant. It’s a feeling held by her wider family as both her grand uncle and grand aunt are multiple lung transplant recipients. Ciara plans to do fundraisers in the future to show her gratitude.

“Our family is very appreciative considering there are three of us who’ve had transplants,” explained Ciara.

"My parents [Con and Fiona] have been great, as has Dr Orla Crosbie, Dr Zeta Galvin, and Dr Gerard O’Shea. It’s only when you are sick that you realise how the professional and emotional support they give you helps so much. To have their support throughout the transplant was important to me,” she said.