My Health Experience: ‘In a very happy place now and very grateful’

When the phone rang early one morning, it could mean only one thing – a donor’s liver had become available


I was told that I had a liver cancer the day after my wife, Elizabeth, found out that she was pregnant with our first child. Talk about a rollercoaster. My hospital appointment was early on a Monday morning. We went to Dublin on the Sunday and Elizabeth did the pregnancy test that evening. We were overjoyed when it was positive.

As far as I was concerned the appointment at St Vincent’s was just “to be sure, to be sure”. I had changed doctors and after some routine tests there was a question mark about something on my liver. I had been leading a pretty active life. I was working away in the bank, I used to go to the gym and I felt fine – although in hindsight maybe there were a few things not quite right.

We weren’t that worried but some things do stick with you. I remember being in the waiting room and there was one couple ahead of us. When they came out, it was obvious that they had got bad news.

I suddenly thought “this is real” and the penny started to drop. We went in to meet Prof Aiden McCormick and he had to break the news that it was cancer. We came out, nothing was said, and then we sat down in the waiting room and both of us broke down.

Knocked to the floor
We had just found out that we were going to have a baby and then we were knocked to the floor by this. Now I realise that a liver transplant was my only option although maybe at the time I did not take that in. It was a very difficult time for both of us.

I was up and down to Dublin for tests and then I was put on the waiting list for a transplant. We were really anxious but physically I felt good and I was working away.

Once I was on the list, it was a case of just waiting. I had the phone with me at all times.

I tried to get on with life. It was really stressful for Elizabeth, being pregnant and coping with this huge worry. But she was my rock through the whole thing.

We told our family and some close friends and obviously my employers at Bank of Ireland, but we kept it fairly tight because we didn’t want to be dealing with loads of questions at a time like that.

I had been told that the average waiting time was six to nine months – they have to give the worst-case scenario – but I got the call after two months.

I suppose reading between the lines I knew then that my situation was very grave.

I got the call at 7am on a Sunday. It was October 2012 and Elizabeth was five months pregnant. I knew immediately the phone rang. Nobody else rings you at that time on a Sunday. We had been told to have our bags packed.

Jennifer, the transplant co-ordinator, said, “Head to Dublin straight away.” I felt really shocked that this was happening so quickly.

I remember it was a beautiful morning. The sun was shining as we drove to Dublin. On the road we rang our families and texted a few close friends. We were also thinking of another family because of course we knew that I had got the call because another family was grieving.

That kept going through my mind – what they were feeling.

I got to the hospital and was brought down to theatre that evening about 5pm. The operation lasted for over six hours. My parents and my brothers and sisters were all there.

You do know pretty much immediately how it went. It was very comforting to know they thought it was a success. I was in hospital for three weeks.

It was hard but the team at St Vincent’s was wonderful. It was very difficult for Elizabeth who was heavily pregnant and travelling up and down from our home in Oranmore in Co Galway.

She had to go to all her appointments without me.

Annie arrived four months after the transplant.

I was out of work for six months so I got to spend a lot of time with her after the birth. That is time I will always cherish. A lot of parents, fathers in particular, have to go back to work soon after the baby arrives.

Life is really good now. Annie is a year old and almost walking. Everyone is healthy. I am back in the gym – they recommend that you stay fit. I am only 38 so I should be active.

It all seems a bit surreal now. If Dr John Lee in Galway had not wanted a full review when I started seeing him, and if he hadn’t had a niggle about something on my liver, who knows where I would be now? I had three tumours on my liver but, thankfully, they were spotted before it was too late.

Donor family
I have written to the donor family. I wanted them to know that they have given me this wonderful gift of life, but that it isn’t just me. There is a small baby too. My donor has made such a difference to our family. Life is difficult for that family. They are still grieving. They have lost somebody and I want to acknowledge that.

I suppose I would just say to anyone who is waiting, not to give up. It will happen. You will get through it and come out the other side.

We have been overwhelmed by the kindness of many people – family, friends, all the people who looked after me. We are in a very happy place now and we are very grateful.