H E ALTH
ORGAN – I C G ROWT H
With the organ donation list ever-growing, David Lynch investigates a simple innovation that could save hundreds of lives and speaks to those most affected.
utside, his two children are enjoying the early spring sunshine. Barry looks out the kitchen window of his home in Loughshinny and smiles at them. It’s a smile running from ear to ear and one filled with not only a swell of pride, but also enormous relief. He waves at them and then returns to the conversation. Four years ago life was not just different for Barry Delves; it was hanging in the balance. Barry’s kidneys were failing and he had been receiving haemodialysis for the previous three years just to keep him alive. Three times a week he would endure a gruelling 4am start and head to Beaumont Hospital to have the life-saving purification treatment. He would then attempt to head to work and try to maintain a normal life. Although ‘clinically beneficial’, this obviously could not go on forever. “Basically I had been punch-drunk for four years while on dialysis; constantly tired and struggling to maintain a normal life. I never got to spend time with my kids and they only ever saw me in bed.” For Barry it was a long and difficult wait for news of an available organ. “I applied to get on the transplant list as soon as I could. The specialists reviewed my situation, said I was a good candidate and I had to wait patiently.” Thankfully, the waiting ended for Barry four years ago when a kidney was made available for transplant. “I remember receiving the call at home one night at about 11pm. The nurse said I needed to get to the hospital within the next two hours. I turned up at the hospital and there was another man there to be tested to see if he could receive the kidney. As it turned out, he had a small infection and I got the nod. That’s all that was in it - I was just lucky to be healthy enough at the time.” Since then Barry’s life has been turned around completely. “It’s been a long, slow process. I still have to take the anti-rejection drugs, but I’m living a full life now. I run regularly and enjoy a social life with my friends once again. I live every day as it comes.” Barry is not alone however. There are currently over 650 people in Ireland awaiting lifesaving organ transplants, which include heart, liver, kidney and pancreas. In light of this worrying situation, Gary Rutherford from North County Dublin has developed a novel idea which could vastly improve the process
of organ donation and the lives of those affected. His idea is based around a website called donorconsent.com which promotes organ donation and makes the process of consenting to donation hassle-free. It also removes the obviously difficult need for a next of kin to have to make a very emotional decision about a family member whilst in a hospital emergency room. “I believe people will talk about it (organ donation) at a calm moment with their loved ones or next of kin. They can then go on to the website, set up their own profile with a picture, print off the con-
sent forms, sign them and I’m hoping we can have all the forms scanned on to an online registry, which can be accessed by hospitals around the world,” explained Gary. This innovative development could speed up the donation process considerably and also give those who consent a ‘tremendous sense of peace and calm’ in the days and months following the death of a loved one. Out of work and recovering from a serious illness at the time, Gary was able to witness the effect that waiting on an organ donar has on a person. “I was in and out of hospital myself at the time and I saw how many people were waiting and waiting for an organ to become available. Over a number of days and weeks the idea for donorconsent.com started to form and develop. Gary is dismissive of the new government’s proposed “opt-out” consent strategy. “It’s supposed to be a gift and I think if you automatically force people to consent, unless they say otherwise, I think you’re going to rub them up the wrong way.” The Irish Kidney Association has also expressed concerns about the new system. They believe an
“It’s supposed to be a gift. If you force people, you’re going to rub them up the wrong way”
approach based on having skilled medical people available to convince grieving families of the benefits of organ donation is a better alternative. However Minister for Health James Reilly has already stated that he will bring forward legislative proposals shortly to speed up the new system’s implementation. Chikoyo White from Balbriggan has been receiving haemodialysis for nine years and is one such person who could benefit from Gary’s idea. “Receiving an organ gives someone the chance to get their old life back. It also gives them the chance to go back to college, or to travel, or even to get a new job.” Chikoyo attends the Northern Cross facility in Malahide several times a week for her treatment and has, to a certain extent, managed to organise her life around her dialysis, though she still has her ups and downs. “There are some days when I’m very tired, but after nine years I’ve got a timetable in place,” she states positively. There is hope for Chikoyo though. Only last week she was speaking with a young man who received a kidney transplant. Like Chikoyo, he was on dialysis for nine years. “I’m keeping my fingers crossed that something will happen soon.” One person who has reaped the benefit is Philip Martin from Swords, who falls silent as he recalls the moment he found out that his sister Lorna could donate her kidney and save his life. “It was a very emotional time for me and my whole family. The fact that my sister was able to give her kidney to me was just brilliant.” The 24-year-old was born with a kidney disease which meant he had to undergo two previous kidney transplants, one when he was just four and then another as a teenager. Due to the limited medical knowledge and expertise at the time these transplants were only temporary. However, three years ago Lorna offered the ultimate gift to her brother. “The only reason I am alive now is because of an organ donor. I’m a walking advertisement for organ donation.” Philip is positive in his outlook and is not one for looking back. “I look at Lorna now and she has her own business and I’m working as a carpenter. Don’t be looking back, only look forward - that’s my way of looking at life.” On the issue of promoting organ donation and getting people involved, Philip is adamant that the first step is simply getting a donor card. “I’m asking people to get a donor card or even tick the box at the back of their driver’s license – it’s that easy. I really don’t understand why someone would not want to give the gift of life, if they can.”
– I C R EALTHH 26 July 2011 “It’s supposed to be a gift. If you force people, you’re going to rub them up the wrong way” With the organ dona...