Ireland must ring-fence ICU beds for ‘gift of life to occur’ – Orla Tinsley

Activist is approaching fourth anniversary of successful double lung transplant

Orla Tinsley has spent years campaigning for improvements in treatment for fellow cystic fibrosis patients. Photograph: Laura Hutton

Double lung transplant recipient Orla Tinsley has said Ireland must ring-fence intensive care beds and operating theatres to ensure others can receive the "gift of life".

Ms Tinsley, an activist, writer and Irish Times contributor, is approaching the fourth anniversary of her successful transplant but has remained largely isolated due to Covid-19.

In an interview on RTÉ's Late Late Show on Friday, she raised the recent situation where an organ donation could not proceed at Dublin's Mater Hospital because of the unavailability of an ICU bed.

“All that needed to happen for the gift of life to occur was for an ICU bed to be made available because after a 12-hour transplant operation you need to be in the ICU for a significant amount of time,” she said.


“It’s Covid related but it’s also related to the fact that consecutive governments have failed to increase our ICU bed numbers. So if we don’t have enough beds, no matter how incredible our healthcare workers are doing their job, they cannot facilitate [patients] when something is not available to them.”

Among a number of required actions, she said, is the need for more critical care beds and for operating theatres to be ring-fenced so they are ready and waiting when organs become available.

Ms Tinsley has spent years campaigning for improvements in treatment for fellow cystic fibrosis patients, and began writing about the issue for The Irish Times in 2005. Originally from Kildare, she relocated to New York where she received her double lung transplant in December 2017.

However, because she takes immunosuppressant medication, she is in the highest risk category for Covid-19 infection and has almost completely self-isolated save for meeting her parents and walking to get takeaway coffee.

Addressing the public response to the pandemic she pointed to the “clear, undisputed” science and appealed for people to “mask up”.

“Remember that the people you are meeting outside, in the coffee shop, you know, your friend, your physician, your plumber, your neighbour, they all could be vulnerable, they could be immune-suppressed, you just don’t know,” she said.

“I have an invisible disability. You can’t tell that I have cystic fibrosis anymore because I no longer cough.”

Ms Tinsley described how she had had six phone calls alerting her to a possible donor match before finally receiving her transplant.

Among her fondest post-surgery memories were returning home to her cat Harper and not having to listen to the hissing of oxygen from a machine beside her bed.

“Whoa, I really am free right now,” she said, describing the feeling of recovery. “Once I have enough strength I can go for a run…three months later, 5k.”

Mark Hilliard

Mark Hilliard

Mark Hilliard is a reporter with The Irish Times