Vital organs: 'My wife gave me the gift of life'
The news this week that Joe Brolly’s donation of a kidney had failed drew attention to amazing acts of generosity that take place regularly – and to the fact that most transplants are very successful
THE ISSUE OF live organ donation came to the fore this week through an act of selflessness between two friends. When the GAA pundit and former Derry footballer Joe Brolly heard that the only possibility for a kidney transplant for a fellow under-10s coach, Shane Finnegan, was through a live organ donor, he presented himself as a candidate. Finnegan had been waiting for a transplant for more than six years, and, given the waiting lists and the availability of organ donors, his chances were slim. So, given that most people can function perfectly well with one kidney, Brolly went through detailed screening that determined his organ would be a suitable match for Finnegan.
Unfortunately, although the transplanted organ functioned well initially, complications arose, and last weekend, after nine days, later the transplanted kidney had to be removed because of what medical staff called a “rare and unfortunate occurrence”. Both men are now recovering, and despite the setback they are expected to lead a public drive for more living organ donations in the near future.
The chances of a living organ donation being unsuccessful are about one in every 100 transplants. About 5 per cent of all transplants, living or deceased, are unsuccessful after the first year. The risk of death to a living donor as a result of the operation is one in 3,000, while the risk of a person donating a kidney and subsequently developing kidney failure themselves is one in 500.
Before any living organ donation is carried out, the potential donor must pass a series of medical and psychological tests to ensure they are of sound body and mind. Most living donors are back on their feet within six or eight weeks of surgery, and can continue living on one organ with no great hindrance to their daily life.
“It is a traumatic experience if it doesn’t work out, but Brolly needs to be admired for the gift of donation,” says Dr David Hickey, the director of transplantation at Beaumont Hospital in Dublin. “Living donors tend to live longer than the general population . . . It is so tightly screened, and you have to be in tip-top medical shape and assessed independently by the transplant team. Things can go wrong, and it happens in the best of places. It is a rare but well-reported occurrence.”
Richard Costello and his wife, Anna, who own the Locke Bar, a gastropub in Limerick, epitomise successful living organ donation. In early 2010, Richard, a former Munster rugby player, was diagnosed with acute kidney failure at the Mid-Western Regional Hospital. He began dialysis in May that year, and because he is 6ft 7in tall, he needed four or five hours of dialysis four times a week.
“There were no signs this was coming,” says Anna. “He had high blood pressure, but it all happened within a few weeks. When he went to hospital he was very unwell, and they said his kidneys were not working. My first response was, ‘Well, how do we get them working?’ ” Richard went on the transplant list, and Anna began to investigate becoming a living donor. “I went through medical and psychological reports led by a wonderful team in Beaumont Hospital,” she says. “It turned out I was a match, so we talked about it and I decided to proceed. My eldest boy was worried that both of us would be going into hospital at the same time, but we went ahead with it three months ago.”