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'I feel more alive and can think clearly': Seven members of Donegal family undergo kidney transplants

Eleven members of the family have been diagnosed with the same unusual hereditary kidney condition called Tubulo Nephritis.

Alister donated a kidney to his wife Fiona.
Alister donated a kidney to his wife Fiona.

A BROTHER AND sister from a Co Donegal family of 18 siblings have undergone kidney transplants within a couple of weeks of one another.

They are sharing their story to raise awareness for Organ Donor Awareness Week this week to acknowledge the selflessness of families of deceased donors including five families who have helped their family.

Fiona Black, a mother of four children, from Letterkenny, Donegal and her husband Allister underwent a living-donor kidney transplant in January this year.

Her brother, John Kelly, who also lives in Letterkenny, underwent his transplant in December 2016. John had been undergoing hospital dialysis treatment for over five and a half years until a deceased donor kidney came along.

Fiona’s time on dialysis was much shorter as for just four months she underwent a home dialysis treatment for eight hours at a time until Allister’s kidney donation to her.

Fiona explained, “Organ donation is hugely important particularly to my family. In total seven members of my family have had kidney transplants including my late mother, four sisters and brother.

Two of the transplants were from living donors including mine from my husband Allister and one of my sisters, Angela, underwent a living-donor transplant in the US.

Two other brothers and two sisters in Fiona’s family have the same unusual hereditary kidney condition called Tubulo Nephritis. The oldest member of the family progressed to dialysis treatment last July and undergoes nightly treatment.

“The three others are likely to progress to dialysis treatment and require transplants as their kidney function is declining. Each one of us who were affected only began to experience kidney failure when we were in our late 30s.”

Our late mother Bridget went into kidney failure after all of us were born. She passed away in 1997 – 17 years after a kidney transplant which she received from a deceased donor.

Fiona’s father Packie passed away 10 months after her death, and her sister Teresa passed away two years ago – both from cancer.

She praised the expansion of new services in Letterkenny that made the whole process easier:

“Way back in the times when my mother was receiving dialysis she would have to travel to Dublin for her treatment. Thankfully we have a local dialysis centre in Letterkenny now.”

Now Fiona and Allister are both fully recovered; Fiona says she didn’t realise how little energy she had until after the transplant.

After their experiences, Fiona and many of her extended family carry donor cards.

“I have always told my family that when I die that my express wish is that my organs can be donated if they are suitable. I would encourage people to talk about organ donation and let their next of kin know their wishes.”

There are over 4,450 people in Ireland being treated for kidney failure, with 2,075 (47%) undergoing dialysis treatment and, thanks to the gift of organ donation, 2,379 (53%) people are enjoying extended life from a kidney transplant.

Organ Donor Awareness Week takes place from 1-8 April. For Organ Donor Cards Freetext DONOR to 50050 or download the IKA’s new digital donor card by visiting www.donor.ie on your smartphone.

Read: ‘After the transplant, I looked in the mirror and my eyes weren’t yellow anymore, they were white’

Read: ‘A profound act of kindness’: Doctor donates kidney to colleague

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