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Strengthening family bonds with kidney donation
Gort man John Quinn, who received a kidney from his brother, Gerard, at the family's Fruit and Veg shop on Mill Road, Ennis. Photograph by John Kelly.

Strengthening family bonds with kidney donation

A GORT man, who donated a kidney to his brother, is organising an event in aid of the Irish Kidney Association this Saturday.

This time last year, Gerry Quinn donated a kidney to his brother, John, after the latter had been on dialysis for more than a year. Kidney transplants where the donor is alive are still quite rare in Ireland, with only 50 taking place in 2016.

The Quinn brothers’ story is a very positive one, in that there was a family member who was a match and willing to donate. Tragically, for hundreds of other dialysis patients across Ireland, they must await a phonecall relaying the news that someone has passed away before donation is possible.

The lifespan of a kidney donated from a ‘foreign’ donor – a person who is not a family member – is usually between 10 and 15 years. A kidney donated from a family member is a much stronger match and will last longer. Indeed, in organ donation circles, this gift from a family member is known as a ‘golden kidney’.

This was, in fact, John’s second kidney transplant, as he underwent a similar operation 16 years ago, when he received the organ from a deceased donor.

Gerry says that, although he was naturally a little bit apprehensive about undergoing such a major operation, he was glad to be able to come to his brother’s aid.

“It’s hard to watch somebody be that sick. John was on home dialysis but he was just constantly drained of energy. He would most likely have been two to three years waiting for a donor and, to me, he seemed to be getting sicker and sicker. He had no life really and it’s difficult to watch that.”

Three of the family initially went to be tested to see if they were suitable to donate, but Gerry had a feeling he was going to be a match. “It was like a sixth sense,” he says.

He went through rigorous physical and mental testing to ensure all was in order before the transplant could take place.

“After they test you, there is a fairly formal interview process to ensure you are fully aware of what you are doing and they speak to you in depth about the after-effects of the operation. They are under obligation to warn you of potential complications beforehand.”

Speaking to someone who had undergone the operation previously was a great comfort to him.

“The same day I got word I was a match, I arranged to meet a man in Ennis, who I knew had also donated to his brother. He was very encouraging and had recovered so well. The whole story was so positive, it gave me great confidence and put my mind completely at ease.

“To be honest, I didn’t think much more about it then after that,” he adds.

There is always a worry in situations like this that the kidney will not take – that the receiver’s system will reject it. “To be honest, while I was obviously a little nervous beforehand, I think John was more nervous than me. I suppose, from his point of view, there is a worry that it won’t take but he was also worried about what I was putting myself through. I think I was more ready for it than him.”

Gerry pays tribute to the team of professionals who took care of himself and his brother in Beaumont Hospital, the only hospital in the country where kidney transplants take place.

“They are a phenomenal team of people. They knew inside a few hours that the kidney had taken well by how John’s system started to respond.”

Gerry says he knew straight away when he saw him that the operation had been successful. “His colour had completely changed. It was amazing. He was, quite literally, a new man.”

Gerry is running a fundraising event in Gort on Saturday night to mark the first anniversary of his kidney donation. He refers to the support offered from the Irish Kidney Association.

“The Irish Kidney Association fund a house on the Beaumont grounds that is available for family members to stay at all times during the lead-up to the operation and throughout the recovery period. It proved to be great if we had to travel up the night before, if you had an early morning appointment. Coming from the west, this was brilliant for us.

“The family used it during the operation also. It’s super because the house is literally 100 yards from the hospital door, so they can be popping back and over. It is great to be able to stay nearby. It just means that, with all that is going on, you don’t have to be thinking about accommodation on top of that,” he said.

The charity initiative this weekend is a fashion show.

“It is my fiancée, really, who is organising it. She works in events and loves fashion, so it was a no-brainer. It is a pay-it-forward thing.

“Unfortunately, there will always be people who need to avail of the Irish Kidney Association. If everyone who comes out of a situation like ours did one small thing, that would make a huge difference. It is only when you have been through it that it resonates with you, but no one knows what their future holds,” he concludes.

The evening of Fashion and Fizz will take place in Sullivan’s Hotel, Gort on Saturday, starting with a reception at 7pm.

By Caroline Whelan

This time last year, Gerry Quinn donated a kidney to his brother, John, after the latter had been on dialysis for more than a year.

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