independent

Sunday 25 February 2018

Mum pleas for changes to organ donation system

Changes need to be made to organ donation in Ireland says Sligo ladies footballer Etna Flanagan after loss of three-year-old Ríoghnán

Last Saturday, Etna Flanagan was playing in the All-Ireland semi-final as the Sligo ladies took on Tyrone in Breffni Park, Cavan. Before throw-in, Etna and her teammates wore special bright tops raising awareness of donor cards.

Etna's young son, Ríoghnán, sadly died in January 2015 waiting for a heart transplant that could have saved his life. He was only three and a half years old.

Etna said she doesn't understand why Ireland, like other countries, hasn't introduced the opt out organ donation, which could save so many lives.

"We were in that boat of waiting, we were just waiting for a transplant.

" Ríoghnán was in complete heart failure and the wait can be so slow.

"Even though we would have to go to London for the transplant, Ríoghnán could have got a heart from the pool for the UK and Ireland and some parts of Europe.

"But still nothing came, the UK unfortunately is like us here in Ireland.

"There is no opt out and there's not enough being done to quicken its introduction," Etna stressed.

She said that she cannot understand why it's not here already.

"I really hope that opt out is brought to Ireland soon. I just cannot understand why not.

"They were indicating that it might be in place by the end of 2018 but even at that, it takes so long.

"I don't know, maybe there's a lot of stuff to be done in order to get it introduced but then Wales brought it in and they didn't seem to have any bother with that," she explained.

"I really don't know why there's a big deal of introducing opt out, when you look at the end of 2018, that's still twelve to 15 months away and a lot of lives could be saved between now and then," Etna pointed out.

She said more people need to be aware of organ donation and the hospitals need to play their part too.

"I think Ríoghnán's month's mind mass was on when a friend who I met in Crumlin came up to me and said that a lady she knew whose child had passed away was in a position to donate their organs but never knew about it.

"She would have been in a position to donate but it was never put to her by the hospital so she didn't get the opportunity.

"She was really upset as she felt she could have donated their organs and benefited other people," Etna said.

She poignantly added that it's not until you're in the situation waiting for a transplant that you realise people need to be far more aware about becoming organ donors.

"Unfortunately, it's not until you're in the situation that you realise, like us, how many other people are in the same situation too.

"Lots of my relatives never had donor cards or never even thought about it before Ríoghnán got sick.

"I've been carrying a donor card for as long as I can remember.

"It's something that unfortunately a lot of people don't think about and that's why I think the opt out system would be far better for everyone.

"Once people are in it then that's it, they can have the opportunity to say no if they wish," Etna explained. She said she was approached earlier this year by Margaret Gormley, sister of Sligo ladies captain Noelle, with regard to the team wearing t-shirts in the warm-up highlighting the need for donor cards.

"Margaret asked me would it be alright and we first wore them before the Connacht final (Sligo beat Leitrim) as it was Ríoghnán's birthday around that time.

"The reason we were putting the information on the back was so that people could see them and be made more aware of organ donation.

"The t-shirts are really bright too so easy for people to see."

Aside from the support about raising awareness from her teammates, football was something that brought back a bit of light into her life after the devastation of losing a child.

Etna said: "I wasn't playing at the time Ríoghnán died. In my head I had finished.

"I had a three month old son, Ódhrán, when Ríoghnán died and I had no intention of going back playing football.

"But then I considered going back last year and I found that it definitely helped me. A year after his death I went back playing with the county as I was in a better headspace.

"I don't know why it helped me because as anyone who plays knows how intense county football is.

"It's so intense, from the training and all of that, there's no such thing as just going along for the craic.

"Before that, I couldn't get my head into the right space whereas last year when I went back, I really enjoyed it and I really got into it," Etna explained.

She was football and sports mad from a young age and playing at the age of 41 at inter-county level shows the class of the talented corner back.

"I'm extremely passionate about football, I wouldn't be doing it if I wasn't.

"I love it. Playing football means I'm able to get out of the house, it's a break away from the mandatory housework of being a housewife.

"I cannot imagine not playing football. "Going back to county last year, I knew most of the girls there and we're all very close now.

"They all work hard and we are all on a par. "Everyone takes something from someone, they are a great bunch."

Etna was reared in Glenfarne but moved to Coolaney in 2002 with her husband Conor, where they are living with their three children, Cria (12), Sadhbh (8) and Ódhrán, two.

Even though she is extremely busy at home, football was always going to be a big part of Etna's life.

"It was 2005 when I first started playing for Sligo. Before that I would have played underage with Leitrim say at 16 and then I played when in college too.

"I started when I was 11 and I'm still at it. It was very different in the early nineties. It was only boys' teams, so I was playing on their teams as there was no underage girls' structure.

"So I went straight from U14 boys to Senior ladies. It's so different now," she pointed out.

With such a busy household, Etna still manages to keep all sides ticking.

"Cria is just after starting secondary school in St Attracta's, so that's another milestone. Conor is originally from Killashandra in Cavan so both of us are blow-ins," she mused.

With Conor working in Maynooth during the week, it's all hands on deck for Etna. "Conor recently moved to a job in Maynooth, he's CEO with a company overseeing fibre broadband. "He is away a good bit which means I have to get someone to babysit to go to training but thankfully a sister of Ciara Gorman, who is on the team, babysits for us.

"It wouldn't work otherwise and I wouldn't be able to play," Etna said.

Last Saturday as is now the norm before every Sligo ladies game, the team wore the t-shirts urging people to carry donor cards in memory of Ríoghnán.

"With the match being in Cavan, a lot of Conor's relatives were there cheering us on too."

Like their sporty mum, Etna's children are following her love of sport.

"Cria is big into gymnastics, she loves it and she's with the DyNamo club in Collooney.

"Sadhbh likes playing football with our club, St Nathy's, while Ódhrán is a wee bit too young yet," she added. And if they are anything like their mum, their sporting careers are only beginning.

To request a donor card, you can email donor@ika.ie, freetext DONOR to 50050 or lo call 1890 543639.

You can write to them by post to: Freepost, Donor House, Irish Kidney Association, Park West, Dublin 12.

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