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'It doesn't have to be a morbid conversation': Mother of infant organ donor makes public appeal

Rebecca Maher’s daughter died at just eight months old, but was able to give a new life to someone waiting on a kidney transplant.

Rebecca and Brendan pictured at yesterday's press conference with their two children - Leo (2) and Eve (11 months) - and Minister for Health Simon Harris.
Rebecca and Brendan pictured at yesterday's press conference with their two children - Leo (2) and Eve (11 months) - and Minister for Health Simon Harris.
Image: Leon Farrell/Photocall Ireland

Source: HSE Ireland/YouTube

IT WAS ABSOLUTELY something we wanted to do.

Shortly before Rebecca Maher and Brendan Quinn’s daughter Matilda died from a heart condition when she was just eight months old, a nurse approached them and sensitively raised the possibility of organ donation.

“We were thinking, she’d been so sick, we didn’t think that her organs would be viable for transplant,” Rebecca said, recalling the number of surgeries Matilda had, some immediately after birth, “But when they looked into it, they told us that her kidneys were still fully healthy, so it was possible to donate those.”

When Matilda passed just a couple of days later, she became one of the youngest organ donors in the history of the State. Her kidneys, although tiny and not yet fully developed, were successfully donated to a 41-year-old man.

It was amazing, we didn’t know that it was possible.

Rebecca was speaking to reporters yesterday at the publication of this year’s organ donation and transplant figures.

The figures are largely in line in 2018, but with a record number of lung transplants. The number of decreased donors increased four to 85, although the number of living donors fell from 40 to 25.

Although there was a fall in the number of kidney, heart, and pancreas transplants, the number of liver and lung transplants increased (56 to 66 and 28 to 38 respectfully).

The system of organ donation in Ireland is due to the change next year, if legislation changing it from opt-in to soft opt-out is passed by government.

Currently, you must explicitly express before your death that you wish to donate organs, such as by carrying an organ donor card or by having the relevant code displayed on your drivers license.

31 NO FEE HSE Organ Rebecca and Brendan pictured at yesterday's press conference with their two children - Leo (2) and Eve (11 months) - and Minister for Health Simon Harris. Source: Leon Farrell/Photocall Ireland

Under the proposed Human Tissue Bill, your consent will be automatically assumed unless you have applied to opt-out.

The system is more in line with international best practice, but has been criticised by campaigners – families will still have the final say, and this system may prevent people have the important conversation with their next of kin to emphasis that they wish to donate their organs.

Speaking yesterday, Minister for Health Simon Harris described the concerns as “fair”, but stressed that if passed, the scheme would be supported by a “major awareness campaign”.

However, until then, the current system remains in place.

Rebecca said the conversation doesn’t have to be a morbid one, and that stories like Matilda’s can help encourage people to order and carry the all-important card.

I remember getting a card myself when I was 18 years old and asking my mum to sign it. Initially, she was a bit shocked and saying, ‘Oh, what’s going on? Why are we having this conversation?’.
You never know what’s going happen on any day, so it’s good to have that conversation now. It’s like making a will, we all do that, making plans for what’s going to happen in the event of our death, even if it’s not around the corner.

Rebecca said although they are not in touch directly with the recipient of Matilda’s kidneys, they have received updates on his condition, and he’s doing well.

One of the things that’s kind of kept us going is to heart that he has a young daughter himself. So I do think of her life and how her life is so much better by the fact that her dad isn’t constantly in hospital on dialysis, in and out for tests, and is living a much happier life because of Matilda’s kidneys.
When Matilda was sick, it really impacted our whole family. Now with her kidneys have gone to this man, his whole family’s life has been made better by that.

To get an organ donor card…

  • Fill in your name and address on ika.ie and they will post one out to you – you can even order a couple extra for friends and family. Once a next of kin signs it, you can place it your wallet and that’s that.
  • When applying for a driving license, a question on the form will ask if you wish to become an organ donor. Tick that, and the relevant code will be displayed on your license.

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Nicky Ryan

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