Life after an Organ Donor transplant can be fantastic and wonderful says Rhóna Quirke, who is certainly testament to that statement, given the life she has lived to the full since she got that call to say she was receiving a kidney transplant.
arking 18-years since that fateful day, this year Rhóna (42) is once again speaking out about the importance of Organ Donation and how such a wonderful gesture can help families everywhere.
“You have been given a gift. Some family out there is losing someone but they have made the decision to donate… you never know the day or the hour that will get ill and need a transplant,” she said.
That day for Rhóna, who is originally from Ballinskelligs but lives in Foilmore, was when she was just a teenager. Her mother became ill, which turned out to be kidney disease and Rhona too turned out to have kidney problems. Both in fact have had kidney donations – her mother 15 years ago in 2006 and Rhóna 18 years ago in 2003 so the family know better than most just how important the ‘Gift of Life’ is.
This ‘gift’ has allowed Rhóna to get married and have a family, something she thought may never have when she was first diagnosed with kidney failure. Her story is one for all those in Kerry who are currently waiting on a transplant or who have just received one.
Following her diagnosis which turned her happy teenager life topsy-turvy Rhóna deteriorated and had to go on dialysis. This she did herself four times daily, known as peritoneal dialysis (CAPD) as she wanted to life her life to the full, and at the time was in college in Coleraine.
“There was no dialysis unit near me so this was my way of doing it. This treatment CAPD maintains you steady,” explained Rhóna.
However, throughout this time she was always tired and nauseous and it was difficult to live life to the full. She was forced to cancel social outings regularly due to fatigue and everything had to be planned to allow her undergo her dialysis treatment four times a day. Even when she finished college and got a job at Ballinskelligs Veterinary Products she was still sick and tired and had to run home at lunch-time for her ‘dialysis’ and return to work.
“I had to do it. I was sick but I was doing my job. I couldn’t walk five feet without throwing myself down. I was so tired constantly and I woke up and went to bed vomiting. I had headaches, my diet and fluids were restricted … I looked like death warmed up all the time.”
Luckily after 2.5 years on dialysis Rhona was on the transplant list and just three months later got the call while she was having lunch in Cahersiveen to say they had a suitable kidney. That day in March is one that Rhona will never forget as she sped to Kerry Airport under Garda escort and was taken to Beaumount Hospital off the flight in a garda cavalcade.
“It was like something from a movie.”
To get the call and for the kidney to be a match changes your life.
“It is wonderful for everyone… Have that discussion at home… One person can donate to 13 people and that in turn is 13 families, brother, sisters, cousins, grandparents. It is unbelievable to get that call.”
At any one time in Ireland there are between 550 and 600 people on waiting lists for organ transplants including heart, lung, liver, kidney and pancreas. Last year saw 190 transplants carried out, 84 less than in 2019. The thoughtfulness of the 62 deceased donors (last year) in these very challenging times is inspiring according to the Irish Kidney Association who launched the annual Organ Donation Awareness week from March 27 to April 3.
Rhóna has never forgotten the kindness of her donor and the difficult decision they had to make.
“You never forget how sick you were but you live life to the full. You have been given a gift… That donor family is thought of every single day. What I do, I do for my donor. I feel responsible to live my life for the donor. I could not do the things I do if it was not for my donor.”
If you want to be an organ donor card, allow Code 115 to be included on your driver’s licence and having the ‘digital organ donor card’ APP on your smart-phone. Organ Donor Cards can be obtained by phoning the Irish Kidney Association on 01 6205306 or Free text the word DONOR to 50050.