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Dublin: 12 °C Wednesday 20 February, 2019

A mystery stomach pain led to a massive medical discovery for this teenager

Claire is now 21, but at 18 she found out she had serious medical problems with her kidneys.

Picture Conor McCabe Photography. Claire today Source: Conor McCabe

CLAIRE DOLAN WAS just 18 when she discovered that she had kidney problems – thanks to a mysterious stomach pain that landed her in the hospital.

The avid Gaelic footballer received a kidney transplant in May 2014, after one year and five months on the waiting list, and wants to encourage other people to talk to their family and friends about becoming organ donors.

Where it all began

The youngest of four, neither Claire nor any of her relations had kidney problems.

But in September 2012, a week after she had started college, she began getting pains in her stomach while at training with Moate ladies football team.

“I just started running and I got an awful pain across my abdomen area,” she recalled. She went home, and to the GP, who then referred her to the emergency department, thinking she might have appendicitis.

“I wasn’t sick, I wasn’t feeling ill – it was just the pain that was getting to me,” she said. But after tests, doctors discovered she had kidney failure. Coincidentally, the stomach pain eased off once she ended up in hospital, and they could never find out what caused it.

The only sign she had of her kidney problems was tiredness, which she put down to her busy lifestyle.

She was in the hospital for 16 days, where she was told that she would have to go on dialysis.

Claire Dolan with organ donor card Source: Conor McCabe

“They found out I only had one kidney functioning,” she said. “They never found out what made my other kidney fail.”

At the time, she was upset, so her parents were her “spokespeople” in hospital. She went on PD dialysis at home in January 2013.

It was nine hours a night. I had to get a tube inserted into my stomach area. At the start I had to wait for that to heal and then get trained up on the machine.

She didn’t find the dialysis itself painful. “After a couple of weeks in, it’s just part of everyday life.”

Claire deferred her year in college, but by the start of April 2013 she was back playing football and golf, and signed up to attend college in Galway (where her hospital was) the following October.

I was grand – I was living with all my close friends. They were so used to it already. It was normal life, I could still go out and have a bit of craic.

The transplant

She was told it would take two years before she would get a transplant, but within less than that time Claire got the call.

Her football team was after winning a game and were celebrating when the transplant team got in touch – but Claire’s phone had no reception.

“The next thing, Dad ran in, panicking and shouting. He didn’t tell me it was a transplant call at first – when he said transplant, I literally was like ‘oh my God’.”

She grabbed her belongings, and off they went to Beaumont Hospital – helped at one point by a garda escort.

After a “nerve-wracking” wait, she had her operation.

“You’re not in pain – it’s like a pulled muscle,” she said of the after-effects.

Claire Dolan, after her kidney transplant operation at Beaumont Hospital Claire after her transplant.

Talk to your family

Claire said that before her experience, she had never talked much to people about organ donation.

But these days, she tries to ensure people have ‘the chat’ with their family. Her friends and local community are all 100% behind organ donation thanks to her story, she said.

I don’t think it’s something that especially people my age talk about, even though it is important.
I think it’s a thing that does need to be spoken about more, especially in fifth and sixth year in schools.

Before, Claire – a student of English and Philosophy - would be “dragging myself out of bed”. Thanks to the transplant, she has had a new lease of life. Her strength and breathing are better, she can eat more of a varied diet, and she can now travel more.

“I’ve so much more freedom,” she said. “It’s had a huge impact.”

Claire and her parents are planning a Golf Classic fundraiser for the IKA at Mount Temple golf course, which they own, on 2 May.

Organ Donor Awareness Week takes place from 28 March – 4 April.

The Irish Kidney Association is promoting the week and urging people to have a family discussion around the subject of organ donation. You can offer your support for organ donation through donor cards, smartphone app, driver’s licence (code 115) and Freetext numbers. You can text “kidney” to 50300 and €2 will be donated from your mobile phone account to the IKA. 

Throughout the week, IKA volunteers will be distributing organ donor cards and selling forger-me-not flower emblems (the symbol of transplantation) in cities, towns and villages throughout the country.

Read: Me and my wife took part in a kidney swap arrangement and I would do it again’>

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