Daughter swimming the channel to raise awareness of organ donation after father's transplant

A daughter is swimming the channel after her aunt donated a kidney to her father, writes Arlene Harris

Eilish Leader with her father Padraig who received a kidney from his sister Maura Angland. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

HUNDREDS of people receive the ultimate gift of life every year in Ireland when they undergo organ transplant surgery. Organ Donor Awareness Week runs from April 2- 9, and the Irish Kidney Association wants to make the public aware of how someone’s life can be transformed by a donated organ.

Padraig Leader from Ballydesmond (on the border of Cork and Kerry) is one of these lucky recipients. Suffering from a rare condition since childhood, much of his life revolved around hospitals and dialysis machines until July of last year when his sister, Maura Angland, made the ultimate sacrifice and donated one of her kidneys to her younger brother.

“From a young age I was always getting headaches but wasn’t diagnosed until I was in my teens,” says the 56-year-old.

“After several examinations it was discovered that I had a rare auto immune disease called Pachymeningitis which caused me to have many health consequences, including renal failure.

“I started dialysis in 2012 which was a very difficult time particularly as I had to make a 100-mile round trip into Cork City to the hospital three times a week. After a while my wife (Mary) generously volunteered to be trained for the home haemodialysis therapy option as I was too unwell to be able to do it myself and I remained on dialysis at home until July 2015 when my sister Maura donated a kidney to me.” Proving the blood really is thicker than water, Maura and several other family members got tested to see which one would be a suitable donor for Padraig.

“I always said I would wait for my chance on the transplant list as I didn’t want to put anyone through an operation to donate an organ,” says Padraig, who has four children — Eilish, 30, Richard, 29, Catherine, 27, and Patrick, 26. “But without my knowledge my two sisters (Maura and Bríd), my brother Liam and my daughter Eilish went to get tested to see who would be a suitable donor for me.

“As it happened, they were all matches and I was informed at the end of May 2015 — I wasn’t given a choice as to whether or not I wanted the organ — they had all decided it was going ahead and Maura made the decision that she was the best candidate. She discussed it with her family and with their consent, there was no stopping her.” So once the decision was made, Padraig and Maura were prepared for surgery in Beaumont Hospital and almost immediately after the transplant, he had a new lease of life.

“The operation took place in Beaumont last July and went perfectly,” recalls Padraig who works for the ESB. “My bloods started improving immediately and for the first time in years, there was to be no more dialysis — it was fantastic. “Maura was discharged after five days and I was let out four days later. Our families stayed in the Irish Kidney Association hostel on the grounds of Beaumont which was amazing and we were all very grateful.

“The after-effects of surgery were hard for the first two weeks but after that both Maura and I recovered very quickly. I really mean it when I say that the operation has changed my life. Being on dialysis keeps you alive but since I got the transplant, my life has been transformed and I am enjoying every minute. But I do think of all the people waiting for a donor, who have to travel to hospital three or four times a week while they wait and hope.

“So with Organ Donor Awareness Week, I believe everyone should have a talk with their family and make the decision to help someone live again.”

Daughter Eilish agrees and as well as putting herself forward as a potential donor is also taking part in a fundraising swim as she hopes to raise both funds and awareness for others in the same situation as her father.

She and three others — known as the Myrtle Turtles — are planning to swim the English Channel in July and although they say they won’t break any speed records, are hoping to make a decent splash for charity.

“I have always loved swimming and one of the best decisions I ever made was turn up to a meeting I heard advertised on Red FM called ‘The Red Drive Challenge’,” says Eilish who works as a public health nurse in Cobh. “The challenge was to do the Vibes and Scribes Lee Swim and this is how I met my fellow turtles.

“We trained together and completed the Lee swim in 2012 and have been swimming together since. Anne Sheehy, a grandmother from Ballinlough, booked the English Channel swim and recruited Eoin Lowry from Glanmire, Caitriona Kehily from Newcestown, and myself to do the swim with her this July. We are doing it for two charities, Marymount Hospice and The Irish Kidney Association and we call ourselves the Myrtle Turtles as we swim in Myrtleville and are slow like turtles.”

Eilish, who lives with her partner Kevin Lucey, says her father has been her inspiration and she hopes others will see the importance of filling out donor cards.

“Dad has unbelievable determination and is always so positive,” she says. “He has been through so much, yet has always been there for his family — he is the reason I went nursing because he was always so easy to look after even though he was so unwell.

“We were fortunate that my aunt Maura was a suitable donor and was adamant and very willing to donate a kidney to her brother. Also we are so grateful that the transplant was a success and dad is enjoying renewed health.

“Organ Donor Awareness Week is really important as there are so many people with organ failure who are entirely dependent on the goodwill of the public and a transplant would transform both the lives of the recipients and their families. So I would encourage everyone to carry a donor card and have the discussion about organ donation with their loved ones.”

Great comfort from Alex’s donated organs

Before Alex Ryan died in January after taking the psychoactive stimulant N-Bomb at a house party in the Greenmount area of Cork City neither his mother Irena or sister Nicole had any thoughts of organ donation. However, having been told that he would not survive the effects of the deadly hallucinogenic drug, they made the decision to donate his organs so others would survive.

“I doubt any parent ever thinks about donating their child’s organs and neither had we before Alex was pronounced brain dead,” says Nicole. “After we were told on the Wednesday night the news wasn’t looking good, I thought of organ donation and asked doctors if it was possible.

“I broached the subject with my mum who initially resisted the idea as she couldn’t bear the thought of Alex being cut up. It was just too soon to be even thinking about it. But then on the Friday night, he was pronounced clinically brain dead and after talking it over, we decided it would be better if some good could come out of his death.

“The doctors told us there were four people who were a match for his organs and on Saturday morning he was taken in for surgery. We were then informed that his healthy organs had saved four lives which gave us great comfort — one life would have been incredible but to think that four people are alive today because of Alex is a miracle.

“I encourage people to talk to family members about filling out donor cards or at least think about it as no-one ever believes a tragedy like ours will happen. If we had the chance to save Alex’s life we would have jumped at it. He was such a giving person I know he would be happy to have given others the chance of life.”


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