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Reah and Aaron Higgins of Caher take time out with their sons Stephen and Fionn at Lough Graney. Photograph by John Kelly.

2018 REVIEW: A Perfect Match In Every Way

EAST Clare couple Reah and Aaron Higgins this year told of their amazing organ donation story this year, as the two revealed how they were the perfect match in every way.
When Reah Hedrich met Aaron Higgins for the first time 20 years ago and he asked for a kiss she shied away from him, however little did she know the two would reunite in 2006.
The couple were more of a match than they originally thought as when Aaron’s health took a dramatic turn resulting in him going on dialysis, Reah stepped up immediately offering him a kidney.
More than a year on from a successful transplant procedure the couple and their two children, Fionn and Stephen, continue to enjoy a new lease of life the procedure has given their family.
Aaron has a condition known as Focal Segmental Glomerulosclerosis (FSGS), which causes scar tissue to develop in the kidneys which limits the filtration process and can lead to kidney failure.
Aaron started to display symptoms when he was in his late teens but he didn’t get diagnosed until much later. The couple, who are now in their thirties and live in Caher, have seen Aaron’s health deteriorate over the past five years to a stage where his kidney function dropped to 5%. In 2015 he went on dialysis at University Hospital Limerick.
Once on dialysis Aaron was placed on the waiting list for a kidney transplant but even before that his wife Reah wanted to give him her kidney. She knew the chances of being a match were slim but if there was a chance she wanted to be the person to donate.
“When you see someone you love who is so ill you don’t hesitate to put yourself forward. Death is such a small risk and with general anaesthetic there is always a risk. You don’t think about it, you just do it. He’s here, that’s all that matters,” she said.
They considered themselves very lucky when Reah was a match and Aaron and his family couldn’t believe Reah’s kindness.
They received support from the transplant coordinators at Beaumont who guided them through the process, including the potential for a negative outcome and this helped both form their decision to go ahead.
This was important to them as there were other considerations too and with two children and also the worry of both being ill at the same time.
Helping them throughout this difficult process was their community in Caher and Flagmount who rallied around them staging fundraisers to help minimise the financial strain on the family.
Reah’s surgery was scheduled for 8am on January 30, 2017 and she was out by 3pm. Doctors told her that the moment her kidney was transplanted to Aaron it just swelled up and started pumping and that it was an extremely healthy kidney.
Aaron saw an immediate difference when he came around after surgery, and recalled physically looking like a different person.
“I called people over to look at my face, my colouring was completely different,” he said.
Although the surgery was a success there is always a risk of rejection, and the risk was always there that Reah would lose a kidney and there would be no gain for Aaron.
After three days Aaron did develop symptoms of mild rejection. Reah said when they heard the word rejection their hearts sank but with medication they got over that initial hurdle, although it is always a possibility.
“It is not a cure, it is a treatment. He will be on anti-rejection tablets for life and they do impact your immune system so you are prone to infection, and also skin cancer is a massive risk with transplant recipients. That’s the piece that people don’t really realise,” Reah said.
She explained that the lifespan of a live donation is approximately 20 to 25 years whereas it is roughly 10 to 15 years for one from a deceased donor.
Reah’s has recovered well from her surgery and her kidney is expected to grow to compensate for the loss of one.
The couple said although the experience was harrowing and challenging they received tremendous support from their community, their family from the Irish Kidney Association’s Renal Support Centre, the renal team and the transplant coordinators.
Reah said she will never regret her decision as it has been “life changing”.
This Christmas season the couple added that it is so important to have the conversation with loved ones about organ donation and encourage households to discuss this with their families over the holiday period.
“Please have the conversation and let your family know if you wish to be a donor,” Aaron said.
While Reah added, “If you are unsure about being a live donor for somebody close to you, speak to the team in Beaumont who will answer your questions honestly and support you with your decision”.
More information on how to become an organ donor is available by phoning the Irish Kidney Association on 01-6205306, FreeText the word DONOR to 50050 or visit website www.ika.ie/card.

About Carol Byrne

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Carol Byrne is a reporter at The Clare Champion newspaper reporting on news in the East Clare area and the arts. She also covers the courts in County Clare and has received seven national awards for this coverage from the Law Society of Ireland and a National Lottery Local Ireland national media award for Best Community Story 2019. A Masters in Journalism graduate of NUI Galway, she also holds a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Limerick in Music and Media Studies, and a Higher Diploma in Irish Legal Studies. She began her career interning at The Limerick Leader and Clare FM, before taking up a full time post at The Clare Champion in 2006.

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