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Meet the people beginning a new life in 2014 thanks to organ transplants

2013 was a record year for organ transplants in Ireland – here are the stories of two people who have a new lease of life in 2014 thanks to the generosity of others.

THE BEGINNING OF a new year is a time for us all to reflect on the twelve months just passed, and tho ones that lie before us, full of potential and excitement.

For some families, 2014 is a year they have waited on for a long, long time. It is their loved one’s first new year after an organ transplant, a year where their life will forever be changed.

2013 has been a record year for organ transplants in Ireland, with 293 organs transplanted compared to the previous record of 275 in 2011.

imageShane O’Connell and wife Tricia

Almost exactly a year to the day that he first went into hospital, Shane O’Connell was able to get home to see his family this Christmas just gone.

The Kerry native and father of three received a heart transplant in mid-November, after being diagnosed with Dilated Cardio Myopathy some 22 years earlier when he was 11.

It was the end of many years of living in limbo for the O’Connell family, and having Shane sitting at the dinner table on Christmas Day was a very special moment.

Recovery

But what his story demonstrates is that receiving the transplant is not the end of the trips to hospital, the medical issues and struggles. Currently, Shane is back in hospital, receiving treatment for pneumonia.

The anti-rejection drugs he is taking to ensure his new heart functions have reduced his immune system, and it will be many months before he is approaching full health.

Speaking to TheJournal.ie, his wife Tricia said that Christmas went well, but “it takes a good six to 12 months after a heart or lung transplant for everything to settle down”.

“There is a lot involved, but it is well worth it,” said Tricia. “It was such major surgery.”

She continued:

We are so thankful that he did get his transplant, and it’s very important to keep trying to get the message out there. It’s fantastic that Shane has gotten his transplant, but there is still an awful lot of people waiting on transplant.

As they welcome the new year, the O’Connell family reflect on the generosity of Shane’s donor and that person’s family, who are in their thoughts.

They are thankful, too, for the Irish Kidney Association, its Kerry branch, and the Renal Centre in Beaumont, who helped them through the past number of years.

This year is the first year of the rest of Shane’s new life.

imageStephen Smith and wife Rachel

Another person whose life was transformed for 2014 thanks to an organ transplant is Stephen Smith (35) from Castletara, who received a double lung transplant recently.

After eight calls for transplants that did not end up happening, he described it as “better than winning any lottery” to have his life back.

He was diagnosed with a condition called Alpha-1 Antitrypsin Deficiency, a genetic condition commonly referred to as genetic emphysema. One in 25 Irish people are carriers for Alpha-1.

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The diagnosis completely changed the sporty Cavan man’s life, and he had to give up work, sport and going out socially for fear of infection.

Now he is in recovery after having his transplant, sand says that organ donation “is without a doubt the greatest gift you could give another person”.

It’s just unreal to be able to do simple things in life again.

As a taxi driver, he used to drive people to dialysis sessions, so knew the impact of organ donation on others. “Little did I know that two or three years later I would need it,” he reflected.

It will be another month or two before he realises the major changes, he said, and for now he is making sure to keep fit and healthy as his body adjusts to the new lungs.

“Your body has to heal; you have to adjust to everything again without machines.”

He thanks his wife Rachel, and his family, friends and colleagues, for getting him through the difficult times. Of course, his donor and their family are always on his mind too.

His late aunt was an organ donor. “Without brave people like her, people like me and others will not get the life-saving gifts we so desperately need,” said Smith.

For organ donor cards, Freetext DONOR to 50050 or visit the Irish Kidney Association website. Smart phone users can download the Organ Donor E-card app from the App store or Android Play Store.

Read: Family’s joy as heart transplant dad could be home for Christmas>

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