‘I’m not just getting by after my liver transplant, I’m living life to the full’

MIKE Keohane is living proof of life after transplant.

The 36-year-old from Rosscarbery, Co Cork, was critically ill in 2007 when he was called for a liver transplant on Christmas Eve.

Next week, he will compete for the first time in the sixth European Transplant and Dialysis Games in Dublin.

“I’m not just getting by. I’m living life to the full,” Mike said. “The transplant operation changed my life. I was never expecting the improvements I got.”

Each of the 350 athletes from 24 countries competing in the Games has received a transplant of one, or a combination of kidney, liver, heart, pancreas, lungs, and bone marrow, or is receiving dialysis treatment.

Mike will compete in five events – shot putt, badminton singles, doubles and mixed doubles, and in the singles darts competition.

“It just shows what transplantation can do. I have never felt as well. The aim of the Transplant Games is to celebrate life through sport,” Mike said.

The football coach at Mount St Michael’s in Rosscarbery was diagnosed with auto immune hepatitis in 1993 and his condition was managed with medication until his health deteriorated in 2005.

By 2007, Prof John Hegarty, head of the liver unit at St Vincent’s, put him top of the transplant list.

Mike and his wife Dee were collecting their turkey on Christmas Eve 2007 when the call came.

The operation was a success and despite an initial rejection of the organ, Mike was home nine weeks later. His inspirational story was featured on the RTÉ programme Surgeons.

Today, he is back coaching six of the school teams, where Dee is deputy principal. He also works as sacristan in the parish church, where he remembers his donor at a special Mass every Christmas Eve.

The European Transplant and Dialysis Games take place every second year. At the 2008 Games in Germany, the Irish team finished third on the medals table with 42 medals.

“These Games celebrate the gift of life I have received and I will remember my donor as I wear the Irish team kit,” Mike said.

Former 5,000m world champion Eamonn Coghlan paid tribute to the Irish athletes team and described how he overcame injury and the death of his father before going on to win gold in the 5,000m at the 1983 World Championships in Helsinki.

“It was these setbacks that inspired me to come back and try harder. To those facing into illness and to everyone else – you’re an inspiration.”

There are 600 patients awaiting transplantation in Ireland. One donor can potentially help nine other people.

For organ donor cards free text the word DONOR to 50050 or log on to www.ika.ie for information.

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