Tragic end: Billy dies before being given chance to live

THE Kerryman who touched the hearts of Irish people with his impassioned plea to be allowed a lung transplant has died while awaiting a suitable donor.

"I refuse to die without a chance to live. I think that's the least that I deserve," were the haunting words of Billy Burke last April when describing his desperate situation.

The 29-year-old from Killorglin, who had Cystic Fibrosis, died yesterday in the Mater Hospital in Dublin, still awaiting a donor seven months after his plea.

In April, he made an impassioned plea to then Health Minister Micheál Martin asking him to overturn what he called a "stupid" arrangement that deprived him of a chance of having a transplant.

Under the arrangement between the Government and the Freeman Hospital in Newcastle, the hospital received all lungs from Irish donors and, in turn, included Irish patients on its transplant list. However, the hospital deemed Mr Burke to be too ill to undergo a transplant operation following an infection he contracted last winter.

His plea came after it seemed he would not be allowed undergo a transplant.

"I can't understand how the Irish Government is standing by and allowing me to die over something as stupid as this. I'm not afraid to die.

"Once you get involved in transplant you always know there's going to be a chance," he said.

Mr Martin broached the matter with British Health Secretary John Reid, who said he could not intervene with the Freeman Hospital on a "clinical" issue.

Yesterday Billy's family paid tribute to his courage as it was revealed that a shortage of donors has led to a delay in operations being performed in Ireland.

His sister, Lisa, said the family were terribly upset, but added: "We're so proud of him. He fought right to the end. It's such a pity he didn't get a chance to live."

Mr Martin also sympathised with the family, saying: "It is with great sadness that I have learned of the death of Billy Burke.

"My thoughts and prayers are with his family."

A surgery team at Dublin's Mater Hospital has been on call since September in the event of a suitable donor being found. There are 25 people in Ireland awaiting a lung transplant.

The process of establishing a lung transplant unit in Ireland began in 1998 when a contract was awarded to Freeman Hospital to deal with Irish patients. The contract was extended when the Irish unit was delayed.

Billy was placed on a transplant waiting list at Freeman Hospital four years ago, but was taken off the list last year after doctors decided he was too ill for a transplant following the infection.

Wythenshawe Hospital, in Manchester, offered to perform the operation if a suitable organ became available.

It had been hoped that the first lung transplant would take place at the Mater last summer.

But the hospital is still awaiting the balance of the money needed to complete the programme.

Freddie Wood, the surgeon heading the Mater's transplant team, said there was a delay because they had not been offered a suitable donor. "There have only been two lung donors since September," he added.

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