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Cratloe woman Geraldine Frost, a dialysis patient, is encouraging people to carry a Gift Of Life donor card as part of the IKA's Kidney Awareness Week. Photograph by John Kelly

Clare woman hails organ donation as gift of life and freedom

BUSY mum-of-three Geraldine Frost was raising a family, running a shop and holding down a job in a medical devices company, in the 1990s, when a routine blood test changed her life.

As part of a routine medical, organised by her employer Analog Devices, high levels of a substance called creatinine were detected.

“That can be a sign of kidney disease,” Geraldine explained. “I had been feeling very tired, but I put that down to being rushed off my feet. My mother had passed away, at the age of just 50, from kidney failure and, as it turned out, I was then diagnosed with a very rare type of kidney disease.”

Because of her condition, Geraldine’s kidneys were no longer able to perform their normal function of filtering out impurities.

This necessitated dialysis, a mechanical process to cleanse waste and fluid. The procedure, which has to happen several times a week, can lead to major restrictions in someone’s daily life.

In the late ‘90s, there was no dialysis unit in the Mid-West and availing of treatment meant gruelling trips to the Beaumont Hospital in Dublin. Fortunately, Geraldine was a candidate for a type of dialysis that can be done at home.

“After the diagnosis, I had nine months of home dialysis,” she outlined.

“This involved four half-hour sessions per day and, to be honest, I found it easy enough.

“A catheter is inserted into your stomach. A solution goes through the peritoneal membrane, so it draws out water and waste products from the blood.

“Home dialysis doesn’t suit everyone, though. Some people can be afraid to do it or may have had complications after surgery which makes the system unsuitable for them.”

Analog Devices, where Geraldine still works, have been fully supportive of her condition all along and she’s deeply grateful for their flexibility.

“I love working here and they have even facilitated me having dialysis in their medical room during the time I was on home dialysis,” she said.

After close medical monitoring, Geraldine was put on a transplant list and a donor organ became available in 1999.

“To be honest, while I was waiting, I couldn’t bring myself to pray for a transplant, because it would be the result of someone else losing their life,” she said.

“When I woke up after the operation at Beaumont, the first person that came into my mind was my donor. It was overwhelming. I was so grateful to them. I called the priest and asked him to pray for their family.”

“There were conflicting emotions. I was really happy to have gotten a kidney, but that was tinged with sadness for the family of the person who had passed.

“I wrote to my donor’s family, through the hospital, because they facilitate that. I wanted them to know how much the donation meant to me and what a difference it made.”

Post-transplant, Geraldine was still going to Dublin two or three times a week to check her condition and to monitor the levels of immunosuppressants which are needed to make sure the new organ was not rejected.

Geraldine soon recovered her strength and was back on her feet.

“With three young children, the transplant freed me up to do more and to keep working,” she said.

“I’ve had 20 years of brilliant health and I’m so grateful for that. I got the time to raise my kids and bring up my family.”

Further challenges came in 2018, however, when Geraldine’s kidney failed. For a time, she was able to resume home dialysis, but her condition became more serious. She is now treated through haemodialysis, which must be done at a specialist centre.

“I go to the Fresenius unit on the Dock Road in Limerick,” she explained. “I have dialysis through a central line and the blood is cleansed and then returned. It’s not painful, but I am stuck to a schedule of four hours of dialysis three days a week.

“I meet some lovely people, but the need to go to the centre so often means that I can’t really go away anywhere.”

In addition to dialysis, living with chronic kidney disease also involves frequent medical check ups. Geraldine has monthly blood tests and a consultation with nephrologist, Dr Liam Casserly, every two months.

“He is so good and so knowledgeable and he seems to work around the clock,” Geraldine said.

Diet is also another area of life where those with kidney disease face restrictions.

“The diet is very limited and there are lots of things you can’t eat or drink,” Geraldine explained.

“If I’m having potatoes, for example, I have to double boil and strain them to remove the potassium. You would think that eating plenty of fruit and vegetables would be a good thing, but there are lots of them that are bad for those with kidney disease.

“When it comes to protein, I can only have a limited amount. I can’t have chocolate – which I love. Salt is out too. In terms of fluids, I’m limited to 750mls a day, so that’s the equivalent of two cups of tea. There is support from dieticians who monitor our blood and check what we’re eating.”

While she waits for another transplant, Geraldine is also supporting her 32-year-old daughter who has recently been diagnosed.

“I’m not too bothered about myself now,” she said, “but I really feel for my daughter because of what she is facing into.”

Her sister has offered to be a living donor, but Geraldine’s previous transplant means it will be harder to find a match.

“My sister has the same blood type as me, but because I now have antibodies built up since the first transplant, that wasn’t an option,” Geraldine said.

“Having said that, even though it’s harder to find a match this time, there is always hope.”

As Organ Donor Awareness Week draws to a close on Saturday (April 30), Geraldine said that the conversation around donation is one that more families need to have.

“A lot of people find themselves facing the decision to donate a loved one’s organs at one of the worst times in their lives,” she said.

“Ideally, these conversations would be happening differently. It’s very hard to ask families to donate in those circumstances. The system in Spain is one where people are automatically considered to be donors unless they opt out. That’s the best system in the world.”

Geraldine is also very grateful for the work of the Clare branch of the Irish Kidney Association (IKA), chaired by Peggy Eustace, who recently installed a memorial for donors at Friar’s Walk in Ennis.

“I would ask everyone to consider becoming a donor,” Geraldine said.

“Your organs are no good when you’re being buried or cremated. One person can change the lives of up to five others. I believe that organ donations give solace to bereaved families in some way. It must be bit of comfort to know that a loved one’s donations can make such a difference.”

More details on kidney donation and donor cards are available on Ika.ie.

About Fiona McGarry

Fiona McGarry joined The Clare Champion as a reporter after a four-year stint as producer of Morning Focus on Clare FM. Prior to that she worked for various radio, print and online titles, including Newstalk, Maximum Media and The Tuam Herald. Fiona’s media career began in her native Mayo when she joined Midwest Radio. She is the maker of a number of radio documentaries, funded by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI). She has also availed of the Simon Cumbers Media Fund to report on development issues supported by Irish Aid in Haiti. She won a Justice Media Award for a short radio series on the work of Bedford Row Project, which supports prisoners and families in the Mid-West. Fiona also teaches on the Journalism programmes at NUI Galway. If you have a story and would like to get in touch with Fiona you can email her at fmcgarry@clarechampion.ie or telephone 065 6864146.

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