My Health Experience: A life cycle: from a three-year outlook to a 40km triumph

After finally going to a doctor with a persistent cough, the prognosis was poor until a transplant became an option

Paddy O’Mahony, who had worked as a fireman for almost 40 years, had ignored a persistent cough for ages when his wife, Pauline, insisted that he have it checked out.

“By spring of 2010, I had felt unwell for the best part of a year, with a dry cough, tiredness and sometimes finding it difficult to do simple things like put my socks on. I put it down to age and tried to forget about it,” admits the father of four. “But one weekend I got a terrible cough that wouldn’t go away, so Pauline made sure I went to see the doctor.

“I was given a letter to go to Beaumont Hospital straight away as I had a strange crackle in my chest and the GP was worried that it might be related to my heart. After being checked out, I was initially diagnosed with TB.”

The 61 year old was concerned by the diagnosis and worried that he might pass it on to one of his four grandchildren, so when doctors revealed he had a different condition, he was relieved. But this emotion was short-lived.


“I told the doctor I was pleased that I didn’t have TB but he said what I actually had was worse; a condition called Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis [IPF],” recalls O’Mahony.

“I had never heard of it before and initially it just went over my head but when I did some research I discovered that it is a nasty disease that would reduce my life expectancy to about three years.

“Needless to say I was shocked and it was an awful lot to take in. I was referred to Prof Michael Keane in St Vincent’s private hospital in Dublin who assessed me and explained what my options were. He was very positive and put me on a new drug, Pirfenidone, which had only just become available and helped slow the rate of progress of the IPF.

“Then I was referred to Prof Jim Egan of the National Heart Lung Transplant Unit at the Mater hospital where my suitability for a lung transplant was assessed.

“After a series of tests, I was deemed suitable for a transplant operation and was put on the transplant list in 2012.

“Then, after 11 months and two false alarms, I was eventually called up.”

When the moment finally arrived, O’Mahony was very nervous and felt his time could be up, but no sooner had he said goodbye to his wife, his ordeal was over.

Six-hour operation

“I had been prepped twice before for surgery, so when the third time came around, I wasn’t expecting anything to happen,” he says. “So when the co-ordinator came in and told me they were ready for me in theatre, I didn’t know whether to make a run for it or not. I was suddenly really apprehensive and, after saying goodbye to Pauline, I felt more alone than I had ever done in my life.

“But everyone was really reassuring and, after what seemed like a few seconds, I was coming around after the six-hour operation and being told that it was a success.”

While the senior fire officer was exhausted after the surgery, he soon began to notice an improvement in his breathing and decided to take up exercise in order to get back in shape and show his appreciation to those responsible for his progress.

“After the operation I was on a lot of medication and felt very tired,” he says. “But it really wasn’t long before I started to feel a huge improvement in my breathing and general wellbeing.

“I was discharged from hospital after nine days and part of my recovery was a daily walk. They were hard in the beginning but increased in distance as the days progressed.

“Once I got a bit fitter, I decided to take up cycling and bought a new road bike. I slowly increased the distance from two miles to 18 miles a couple of times a week.

"I felt better than I had done for years and wanted to give something back to the organ donors and their families, so decided, with the help of my colleague Brendan Lodola and Dublin Fire Brigade Cycling Club, to run a cycle event."


This took the

form of a 40km cycle (and a 100km route for the more serious competitors) on May 25th. Even though it had been only just over a year since his operation, O’Mahony completed the race.

“I managed to finish without too much difficulty,” he says. “I felt tired but elated as it was really good fun and felt like I was doing something very worthwhile.

"Brendan selected the routes but just two days before the event his father, Elio, died of pulmonary fibrosis, so the cycle was dedicated to him. Some much-needed funds were raised for the Irish Lung Fibrosis Association [ILFA] on the day and we have also helped to raise awareness of organ donation.

“So I would like to express my sincere gratitude to all organ donors and their families who have changed my life and the lives of so many other people. Without them I wouldn’t be here.”

In conversation with

Arlene Harris

Arlene Harris

Arlene Harris is a contributor to The Irish Times specialising in health, lifestyle, parenting, travel and human interest stories