GROWING up with type one diabetes was difficult for Audrey Bleach. General childish indulgences such as sweets and treats were forbidden and as she grew up, her life was built around insulin injections, her diet was regimented and her blood sugar levels had to be constantly monitored.
What it was to be a normal kid and normal adolescent was lost to her in many respects due to the restraints of her illness. Having been diagnosed with type one diabetes at the age of nine meant things would progressively get worse for Audrey as she grew older but despite the looming bleakness that lay ahead in her future, she remained positive and upbeat, determined to find a way to be happy.
The Tuamgraney woman’s motto is, “Always live life to the full” and Audrey kept her good spirits even after her kidneys began to succumb to the disease causing her to go into renal failure in 2003.
“My daily routine would involve four injections a day for my diabetes and dialysis for 10 hours a night. I had a restricted diet and I would be constantly monitoring my blood sugar but I would never let it stop my life,” she stressed.
While Audrey was growing up with this illness science was growing and developing alongside her and on December 31, 1992 the first ever kidney and pancreas transplant was carried out in Ireland. Since then only 107 such transplants have been done in the country, averaging at about five a year.
Research in this field continues to be carried out in the designated transplant unit in Beaumont Hospital in Dublin and Audrey and her family looked into whether she would be eligible and suited to this type of an operation, as Audrey was put on the critical list.
Audrey explained that the transplant was her only way out but added it is not an answer for everyone in the same position.
“It sounds funny but you have to be fit enough and yet sick enough to get onto the waiting list for the double transplant,” she said. Being young and yet critically ill led her Beaumont where she met with the transplant team headed up by David Hickey. Then began the first stages of her road to recovery.
“I had a number of tests done to ensure I was psychologically fit. They had to carry out blood matching and my heart had to be tested so I had an angiogram. I passed. I was hopeful all the time and would always say when I get my transplant, not if I get my transplant,” she revealed.
Two years on dialysis and the waiting list for this crucial operation, Audrey received her life-changing phone call on December 19, 2005 to say the transplant team in Beaumont had a kidney and pancreas match for her.
It was with mixed emotion that she called her friends and family to tell them she would be travelling up to Dublin that night.
“It was really emotional and surreal. It was a joyful thing for me but on the other hand someone was after dying. I can’t explain how that grips you,” she recalled.
“At 5am, it was all systems go. You don’t have a chance to even think about it you just have to get to the hospital. Because I had been through so many operations up to that point I didn’t think, would it work? The outcome was supposed to be good for me,” she explained.
Following the 10-hour long procedure, Audrey said she felt like she had been given “a second chance at life”.
Hearing the words, “the transplant was a success” was overwhelming. “I was on a high. I had been waiting two years for this and I couldn’t stop smiling. I went from having to take daily injections for 20 years to just having to take anti-rejection tablets. It took me months to realise I don’t have to be in bed at 10pm for my dialysis and I don’t have to take injections. I get to feel normal. I have total freedom”.
According to Audrey one of the things that not everyone realises is that by having her pancreas and kidney transplant, she is now completely cured of diabetes.
Three years on from her transplant, Audrey has moved to Galway, has learned to drive, is the secretary of the KATS Drama Society and has reclaimed the life her illness took from her.
However, while Audrey has been given this second chance, she is acutely aware that there is a grieving family out there that has lost someone.
“A strange and touching aspect of my transplant is the knowledge that the reason I am so well is because I am the recipient of the organs of somebody who has died.
I can only imagine the terrible sadness and loss the family must feel and I will never be able to fully express my gratitude to them and my donor but a day never passes that I do not think of them. Without them, this wouldn’t have happened for me. All I can do now is try to live a good life,” she explained.
She added that she will also be forever grateful to the transplant team in Beaumont. Now that she is healthy enough and in a position to give something back, Audrey has set a fundraiser in motion.
“In times of recession is when funds are typically low for research and development in hospitals and it is now more than ever that funding is needed,” she stressed.
The vintage road run came about through her family’s interest in vintage vehicles and Audrey decided this was the perfect way to get the public involved and to help raise funds for the Clinical Research Fund into Pancreas and Kidney Transplants and to raise awareness of carrying a donor card.
“By carrying a donor card, one person can potentially save five lives,” she explained.
The vintage road run will follow a 15 mile route departing from Hassett’s Bar in Tuamgraney at 12.30pm on Sunday, October 4. Anyone interested in taking part or who would like more information about sponsorship cards or donation can contact Ellen on 087 2875745 or William on 087 9588231.
The funds raised will go directly to research for kidney and pancreas transplants and to Beaumont’s specialist transplant unit.