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Dublin: 11 °C Friday 18 October, 2019

Column: Organ donations save lives – and I should know

Trevor O’Sullivan has received two liver transplants, and will require more after being diagnosed with cystic fibrosis last year. He writes about receiving the gift of life.

Trevor O'Sullivan

Everyone who is born holds dual citizenship, in the kingdom of the well and in the kingdom of the sick. Although we all prefer to use the good passport, sooner or later each of use is obliged, at least for a spell, to identify ourselves as citizens of that other place - Susan Sontag

AT THE AGE of 12 years, a traumatic event changed the course of my life forever and gave me an insight into the transience of life that not many people are given.

After vomiting blood twice I was rushed by ambulance to Our Lady’s Hospital for Sick Children in Crumlin. After two months of enduring a battery of medical procedures I received a stunning diagnosis: my liver was ravaged by cirrhosis. The liver supports almost every organ in the body and when it fails it confers you with a multitude of ailments. So my teenage years were spent battling against often seemingly insurmountable odds.

My liver held out until the age of 20, when I was finally sent to Dublin to be assessed for a liver transplant. When I was told that without one I would die very soon I was inconsolable. I needed counselling before I was emotionally strong enough to prepare for what lay ahead. Waiting for a transplant is something almost impossible to explain. On the one hand you yearn for that call to give you a new life – but on the other side you know the second chance will mean the death of someone else. You go through every conceivable emotion in that time. I finally got my liver in May of 1995 and was only the 42nd person in Ireland to receive a liver, as the procedure was very new then in this country.

Within days my jaundiced and ravaged body radiated health. But my second liver failed due to complications, and I was listed again. In October of the same year I was hours from death and only another liver which came at the last moment saved me. The second transplant lasted 17 hours and only for the incredible skills of surgeon Oscar Traynor and the team I would not be writing this today.

‘It gave me an indescribable appreciation of life’

Only a few moments after that mammoth surgery I bled internally twice needing another two more trips to theatre. When I finally came off the ventilator things kept deteriorating, requiring three more operations to deal with chronic complications. Then, after an intensive recovery I started to plan for the future.

The gift of life bestowed me with an appreciation of life that is indescribable. It forces you to prioritise what is truly important and makes the trivialities that others worry about pale into insignificance. It allowed me to fulfil my dream of doing a journalism degree in Dublin City University and also to travel to Graceland, as the music of Elvis was a huge source of comfort through those difficult years.

The medical profession could never work out why my liver had failed initially. I had lung problems as a child which was put down to asthma. But in 2006 those lung problems began requiring constant hospital stays. Last year I was aghast to discover the source of all my problems: at an incredibly late age to be diagnosed, I was told I had cystic fibrosis.

It has taken me a full year to come to terms with that bombshell but as before I plan to fight to the bitter end. I will in time need a lung transplant and more than likely another liver as the cystic fibrosis will damage that again; possibly even a kidney as the anti-rejection drugs are toxic to that organ and I already have a modicum of damage.

I am here because someone carried an organ donor card. I have seen at first-hand how people close to certain death can become reborn. They take that second chance and grab it with both hands and make a contribution to life that is inspirational. I implore people to think of the following scenario. If a doctor told you that you were dying, you would be devastated beyond belief. But what if you were then told by that same physician ‘But we can save you with a new organ’? You would most certainly accept it.

If you would take the gift of life, why not do the same for someone else?

Trevor O’Sullivan has a degree in journalism from DCU, and tweets at @elvisrockysly.

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Trevor O'Sullivan

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