YOU don’t have to have sight to have vision. Those are the words of Lahinch woman Aine Mae O’Mahony, whose determination never to quit in the face of adversity provided inspiration to others at the national launch of the Irish Kidney Association’s Organ Donor Awareness Week.
Aine Mae, who lost her sight in her twenties, was among those invited to speak about their health experiences at the launch, having undergone a double transplant last year.
She received a kidney and pancreas and is enjoying a life without diabetes and dialysis, as a result of the gift of life given to her through organ donation.
At the age of eight, Aine Mae was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes. “There was not much known about diabetes at the time, nor any new developments in terms of its management and it was quite terrifying holding that syringe for the first time preparing to inject myself,” she recalled.
At 25, she lost her eyesight as a result of diabetic retinopathy. While many procedures, including laser and injections in both eyes, helped in maintaining the pressure, surgery was required to re-attach a retina. However, this did not bring her sight back.
“I was running my own business at 23 and almost overnight I had no sight. I remember shutting down the business and sitting at home without anything to fall back on. I was unable to work my phone, make a cup of tea, leave the house on my own or hop into the car to visit my mum,” she remembered.
After a number of weeks her cousin, who she grew up with, had returned for the weekend and could see how her life had changed.
“I remember him asking me had I been out and I said ‘no’. He asked why? I said ‘I am worried about not being able to see people and I don’t know who I am speaking to’. I will never forget his words, they were so short and simple but so effective. He simply said, ‘so what!’ Those two words were enough to drive me, as here was my younger cousin, who I viewed as a brother, giving me the strength to get out there.”
Following that, Aine Mae learned computers and uses software that reads what she types. Having equipped herself with IT skills, she recalled always wanting to work in radio but never thought she would be able to. Taking her laptop to college, she was able to take notes and achieve her radio programming.
Aine Mae has worked in radio for nine years as a producer and presenter and, for the past four years, as a manager.
In 2015, she spoke to her renal consultant Niamh Kernin, who recommended she think about entering the double transplant programme. She began dialysis.
“Being on dialysis was difficult as your body is going through a change yet again. Toxins and fluid must be removed in order to maintain health and the tiredness was what got me the most.”
She continued to work full-time with a supportive board of directors, who allowed her to work from home on the days she had dialysis treatment. “I must thank the dialysis team at Wellstone in Galway, they are the most amazing group and make everyone so comfortable along with words of encouragement.”
In relation to being on the double transplant list, she said, “I believe firmly in the power of inner strength and positivity, what you put out there comes back but I could never want the transplant because I knew that in order for me to have it, someone would have to pass away and that was tough. So I changed my thought on the transplant and said if I was given the gift, I would gladly accept it”.
That gift was given to her last year when she received a kidney and a pancreas under the newly set up kidney/pancreas transplant programme at St Vincent’s University Hospital.
“I just remember thinking ‘this is it’ and having total faith. After my 10 hour surgery, I remember crying with gratitude. The transplant team, headed by Tom Gallagher, were supportive and firm, as their focus is making sure that I am doing everything I can on my part to make sure all goes well post-op.”
Aine Mae, who lives in Ennis, is now past her recovery stage and is making her mark once again. “I cannot believe the amount of energy I have. A life without diabetes and dialysis is remarkable. It is a slow process post-op but all I kept saying every day was thank you for my healing and my upmost gratitude is towards the donor family and to the person who donated.
“To make such a decision at a difficult time must be recognised and even more so on Organ Donor Awareness Week. If it wasn’t for all these families, transplant teams could not be in operation and people would not have a second chance.”
Aine Mae returned to work in her management position however, this year, she has decided to pursue other avenues and take on new challenges.
“After my transplant, I have decided to step down from my position and bring my knowledge of success in business in other areas. I have proven that you don’t need to have sight to have vision, therefore anyone is capable if they really believe that they can achieve. Public speaking and motivational seminars is something I enjoy, because it’s a reminder of what is possible. When I thought I was unable to face people after my sight loss, it was those two words that my cousin said that drove me onwards. Sadly he passed away last year when I was on dialysis and that was the most toughest thing I ever had to go through. I will honour him as well, as my donor, in always living life bright and to the fullest.”