Woman who donated kidney to brother welcomes expense changes

Stay at home parents now included in Government scheme to reimburse donors

Brother and sister Gerry and Nicola Mckenna

Brother and sister Gerry and Nicola Mckenna


A woman whose brother paid her childcare costs while she recovered after donating a kidney to him has welcomed the inclusion of stay at home parents in the Government scheme to reimburse expenses to donors.

Nicola McKenna from Lusk, Co Dublin said she was “absolutely thrilled” that Minister for Health Simon Harris had introduced changes in expenses that will include an allowance of up to €5,000 for childminding while a donor recovers.

Ms McKenna, who works in the home, did not qualify for expenses two years ago when she donated a kidney to her brother Gerry. But she said it could be a major encouragement for future donors who stay at home but still work.

She was one of four stay at home parents who donated kidneys in 2017, and among the 51 in total that year. Currently most living organ donations are within families.

Last year the number of living donations was 40, the first substantial fall since records began.

Gerry McKenna who marks his new kidney’s second “birthday” on Wednesday as organ donation awareness week ends, also welcomed the move and said it made no sense to have those childcare costs as a barrier when the State “could save so much money” through living donors.

The once-off cost for an organ transplant is in the region of €25,000. His sister had worked out that it costs the State an estimated €72,000 a year for each person on dialysis but childcare costs for her two months’ recovery were 4.5 per cent of that.

Mr McKenna said his sister’s donation came just weeks before he would have had to go on dialysis.

While he had been diagnosed with a polycystic kidney condition when he was 25, he was 51 when he got his new kidney and had put off dialysis for as long as possible.

‘Disregarding the realities of my job’

Previously the Department of Health reimbursed lost income to salaried, waged and self-employed donors for up to 12 weeks after donation but excluded donors not in formal employment.

The changes were made after Sinn Féin Dublin Fingal TD Louise O’Reilly raised the issue in the Dáil when Ms McKenna highlighted the problem with her.

The donor was subsequently in contact with the Minister and told him the policy of not covering childcare costs for stay at home parents, was “disregarding the realities of my job”.

Theirs is a one salary household and she received a €2,500 estimate for minding her two children, one aged three, from 8 am to 6 pm, and the five-year-old before and after school for her anticipated eight weeks’ recovery after the operation.

The former IT employee was concerned however that with her brother paying it would be “ethically tricky because it might be perceived that you’re buying the kidney”.

Part of the detailed organ donation process includes an interview with an independent doctor who raises the ethical questions about whether the donor is being coerced or paid. The doctor reassured her there was no issue and that she was making no financial gain.

Life is very good

For the donor recipient, an Intel engineer, his new kidney has made a “massive difference”, although it brings some complications.

Surgeons did not take out either of the other kidneys. “They don’t take them out. In my case they put the new kidney in above my right leg, nearly across from my belly button and connected with the leg artery and veins.”

His other two kidneys continue to grow, pressing up against other organs and one as big as a rugby ball.

His abdomen is extended and he is in some pain but it is “low grade”. He recently went for checks to see if it is time to have them removed but the medical experts are against removal unless there is a major problem “and nobody knows how long the new kidney could last”.

Kidney removal is a riskier operation with a 1 per cent morbidity rate or one in 100 cases, he was told. “It’s a one in 3,000 or 4,000 to receive a kidney, a much better chance.”

But he says that “other than I look like I eat too much and I’m in a bit of pain”, life is very good with holidays that might not have been possible on dialysis and a forthcoming trip to the rugby world cup.

Gerry McKenna praises the staff in the kidney unit in Beaumont Hospital as “fantastic”. He said everyone complains about the health service “and I’ve done it myself but they’re top class”.