The decision to donate a kidney to a total stranger was for me a very simple one. It all started one evening after watching a program on television that documented the story of a man who donated a kidney to another man, whom at the time he barely knew. It was a profound moment in my life that I’ll never forget and ultimately one that helped me in making my own decision to do the same thing. As I watched, in complete amazement, a few thoughts entered my head; I couldn’t think of anything that I’d ever come across that was as kind, selfless, rewarding and human. This single act alone, for me, represented all that is great about people and served as a reminder of the wonderful things that happen every day.
More importantly, it left me questioning my own contribution to the world as the words of Martin Luther King Jr. echoed – “life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘what are you doing for others?”
Having not slept much that night, I then made contact with Belfast City hospital before being put in touch with one of their transplant coordinators. I was sent a pack that included a DVD amongst other materials, which answered some of the bigger questions. Once I had digested that, I was invited to meet with Pauline Haslett to discuss everything and again answer any questions I had. If I’m being honest it was quite an exciting time for me, as strange as that might sound.
It was exciting to think that there was someone out there who was very sick, who had no idea what was potentially about to happen; they would receive a phone call to say that a healthy (hopefully) kidney was awaiting them, a life changing moment.
The next step was to undergo the rigorous testing, which in total lasted almost a full day. While it was a long day, considering I had driven 250 miles from Limerick to get there, the testing itself was all quite relaxed and never at any time painful or even uncomfortable. I met with Dr Aisling Courtney later that day, who had taken a look at some of my tests and while still very early in the process, in her opinion things were looking good.
Two weeks later I received Dr Courtney’s report and request that I be scheduled an appointment with the clinical psychologist as the next step in the process. Despite many people telling me I was out of my mind to even be considering this, the psychologist found that in fact I was of sound mind and should be allowed to continue along in the process.
All in all, it was about 9 months from when I first made contact with the hospital to when I was in theatre having my left kidney harvested by the surgical team. At no time did I ever feel under any pressure to do what I was doing and right up to the morning of the procedure, I could have decided I didn’t want to go ahead with it. I was adamant it was what I wanted to do and would have been left bitterly disappointed if I had been stopped, for whatever reason. I was awake and moving quite quickly following surgery and didn’t feel much more than mild discomfort with gravity ensuring that everything bedded in nicely! I did experience a little pain the day I was leaving hospital, as a result of the nerve around my diaphragm being disturbed by the gas that was used to expand my chest cavity during surgery. This dissipated pretty quickly however and 72 hours post-op I felt strong enough to spend 6 hours out exploring Belfast and checking out the Titanic tourist centre.
The recipient of my kidney came through his operation very well and all signs were that he was on course to starting a new chapter in his life, with his health improving all the time.
A few weeks before, I had been chatting to a friend about my decision to donate and she showed me this gem of a quote that dates back to the 1600’s – “you have not lived today until you have done something for someone who can never repay you”. This really captured my feelings beautifully.
While I never believed nor do I believe that I am owed anything, the ability to have been able to gift someone with another chance, is something I will always treasure; I feel as lucky as the recipient. While this may have seemed like the end of the journey for me, in reality it was only the beginning. This decision changed my life immeasurably for the better and has given me a view on life that I could have never achieved without it. When asked do I have any regrets I answer truthfully with “of course, but just one. I regret that I didn’t do it sooner”.